OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — On the morning of Oct. 20, 2021, Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Tyron Ponds made a traffic stop in Beauregard that turned into a shootout. Ponds, a 34-year-old Army veteran, had graduated from the police academy in Selma two months earlier, and it was only his sixth day of working alone as a deputy.
Now, he is recounting that day and its aftermath in an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News.
It was on Lee Road 121 at about 8:30 a.m. when Ponds said he pulled over a motorcycle rider later identified as John “Squirrel” Cross.
“He didn’t have a tag on his motorcycle, and I made the decision to initiate a stop,” Ponds said. “... It took him a while to pull over, but he finally pulled over. I got out and introduced myself and the reason for the stop. He seemed fairly well at first.”
Ponds said he was aware that Cross had not shut off the motorcycle.
“The situation escalated once I asked him to identify himself and he refused to show a license,” Ponds said. “Then I asked him to step off the motorcycle, so I can identify him. That’s when he took off and the pursuit initiated.”
Ponds said he pursued Cross for about a mile and a half until Cross lost control and crashed his motorcycle.
“At first I thought he was seriously injured, so I was trying to render aid,” Ponds said.
As he approached, Cross “took off running,” Ponds said, and ran about 20 feet along the side of the road until he fell near the wood line. When Cross stood up, he pulled out a gun and started firing, Ponds said.
“My sole thing was to lay down fire before I was severely injured and just to subdue him, to stop him in his tracks,” he said.
Ponds said his training kicked in quickly and he returned fire. Just two weeks earlier at Fort Benning, he had trained to shoot from a vehicle and react to fire.
“A situation like that is hard to prepare for, especially with a real-life event,” he said. “That training I think overall helped save my life.”
Ponds was stuck by bullets three times, on the side of his right hand, on his right arm and on his left hand, which took off the tip of his little finger and damaged his ring finger.
“For me, I was more focused on returning fire and staying alive,” he said. “I wasn’t really fixated on my injuries at that point in time.”
Cross was hit at least twice by the return gunfire, and Ponds was able to subdue him. Deputies arrived at the scene about five minutes after the shooting and found Cross in a wooded area a short distance from the crashed motorcycle.
The first person to arrive on the scene was Ponds’ patrol supervisor, Lt. Bill McGuire, who’s been in law enforcement for 27 years. Ponds said McGuire’s arrival made him feel “overwhelmed” and “happy.”
McGuire, 49, of Notasulga, was on patrol in the Beauregard area and headed to the scene after hearing that the suspect’s motorcycle was still running. When he heard Ponds had been shot, things got hectic.
“It don’t matter how old the guys on my shift are, they’re like my kids,” McGuire said. “I feel responsible for them.”
Over the radio, Ponds sounded out of breath, McGuire said, and he feared the worst. Arriving on the scene, he parked on the opposite side of the road and Ponds stumbled over to the vehicle.
“He fell down at my door; I got out and started looking for whoever it was that shot him,” McGuire said. “We were trying to figure out where the shooter was and where (Ponds’) bleeding was coming from.”
Shielded behind the back of McGuire’s truck, he inspected Ponds’ wounds and “patched him up.” When more backup arrived, McGuire and a sheriff’s corporal searched for the shooter and found him unresponsive in the woods.
Ponds was loaded into the back of an ambulance, and the pain from his wounds started to set in as his adrenaline wore off, he said. He was transported to Piedmont Hospital in Columbus, Georgia and Cross was life-flighted by helicopter.
A Lee County warrant for attempted murder was filed against Cross in October and his case is pending, according to Lee County District Attorney Jessica Ventiere.
Sheriff Jay Jones said he was filled with “dread of the unknown” when he was notified of the officer-involved shooting, and he immediately went to the hospital.
“It’s such a cliché, ‘the worst feeling in the world,’ but it was,” Jones said.
Ponds had two surgeries to clean and care for the bullet wounds. In April, he had tendon transfer surgery to allow him to have functionality in his right hand again.
“They took the tendon that closes your hand, and they rerouted it to the backside of it,” Ponds explained, “so I can use that tendon to open my hand.”
Ponds said the situation has taken a toll on his family, and that it took some time for his three children to get used to seeing his injuries. Of all the support he’s received since the October incident, he said: “I think that solidified my stay here in Lee County.”
Ponds said he’s healing well and is “most definitely” ready to return to work as a deputy but is taking things day by day and waiting for the doctor’s approval. He is currently working in investigations and is going through physical therapy for his injuries.