Gwinnett cops ‘angels' for saving two from burning home

Mary Ann Wilkins can't remember what the police officers looked like who helped save her and her husband from their burning home. She certainly didn't get their names.

Still, the Gwinnett County native considers the two men heroes. She calls them angels, sent to help the couple even before firefighters could arrive at their fully engulfed log cabin home Monday night.

"They're like a guardian angels to me and my husband," Wilkins said Tuesday afternoon, as she sat just a few feet away from what's left of the home.

Moments after Wilkins called 911 around 7:45 p.m., help came in the form of two Gwinnett County police officers. Officers Jeremy Bailey and Darin Mitchem arrived at the home, just off of Highway 78, before firefighters arrived.

"Right when Officer Mitchem arrived, pieces of the ceiling and roof had started falling down," Bailey said. "And that's when we both made the decision to go into the house."

Wilkins told the officers to help her husband, Lamar, who is unable to walk and was in the living room when the fire broke out. Lamar Wilkins was on the sofa, about 10 feet from the front door, when the officers entered the home, Gwinnett fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said.

Mitchem got to the man first and started pulling him out, while Bailey pulled Mitchem toward the door, the officers said Tuesday. They both carried the man outside and to safety. Neither of the Wilkinses were injured.

Mary Ann Wilkins said her 85-year-old uncle, who lives with the couple, had just gone outside moments before the fire broke out. But her two dogs and three puppies did not survive the blaze, she said.

Through tears, Wilkins said she tried to get the dogs out, but they went back inside. She considers the pets her babies, she said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it could be related to the weather, fire officials said. The home is a complete loss.

The three adults are currently staying in a hotel, but are hoping to find a new place to live soon. They lost almost every possession in the fire, she said. A cousin bought her a dress to wear Tuesday.

"We ain't got nothing. I lost dishes, I lost everything," Wilkins said. "Bed clothes, towels, wash rags, my babies."

Still, she's thankful that she and her husband made it out alive, and grateful for the bravery of two officers.

Those two officers will be honored by county fire chief next month for their efforts, Lt. Eric Eberly with the Gwinnett fire department said. Mary Ann Wilkins hopes she'll have the chance to meet the officers again.

"I'd like to hug their neck," she said.

Both of the officers downplayed their actions.

"We just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Mitchem said.

- Staff writer Marcus Garner contributed to this report.