The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety recently presented Watkinsville Police Detective Sgt. Will Horton with its Officer of the Year award.
Horton, who has worked for the Watkinsville Police Department for 11 years, said he enjoys working in a small city on the outskirts of Athens.
“We’re an eight-man department,” he said. “Our chief (Lee O’Dillon) was born and raised in Watkinsville and has lived here all his life. He has a vested interest in the city.
“I’ve lived here since 1989, so I have a vested interest in the city and county. I think we all feel that way. We care about what happens to the people that live here and the businesses that are here.”
Horton grew up in the small town of Plymouth, N.C., located along the Roanoke River and the Albemarle Sound on the coast.
“When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to do something more with my life than stay in a little rural town. My mom was a single parent and raised my sisters and me,” he said, adding he didn’t want stay there and work at the city’s largest employer in the lumber and pulp mill industry, where so many of the townspeople made their livings.
“I decided before I graduated high school that I would go into the military. I was in the delayed entry program, so I joined the military about four months before graduation. I did my basic training six days after graduation,” he said.
Horton served eight years in the U.S. Army, then proceeded into a job as a firefighter for the Georgia Forestry Commission, working out of an office on Whitehall Road in Athens, then an office in Barrow County.
In that job he did everything from fighting wildfires to supervising controlled burns and conducting educational programs, including Smokey Bear programs in schools.
Horton drove a bulldozer on many firefighting missions in which he plowed fire breaks to suppress blazes.
“You had to get right in the fire sometimes,” he said. “It was dangerous and fun at the same time.”
The job had him assigned to fire suppression duties in five counties.
During this time, Horton was also a volunteer firefighter with the Oconee County Fire Department and there he became associated with Tim Haller and Randy Bennett, both Watkinsville police officers.
Horton learned there was a job opening at the police department.
“I was at a point with the forestry commission where if I was going to stay I needed to stay, but if I wanted a career change, I needed to go ahead and do it now,” he recalled.
Because of his military background, Horton said he felt a job in public safety would complement his past experience.
He applied and O’Dillon hired him as a patrol officer. Today, he is the department’s investigator.