Veteran memorial nearly finished, mayor pro-tem breathing easier - CBS46 News

Veteran memorial nearly finished, mayor pro-tem breathing easier after choking incident

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With his hands groping at his throat, unable to breathe, Snellville Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Witts was thinking about his grandmother.

She choked to death back in the 70s. In the same situation two weeks ago, Witts was left wondering. "Is this it? Is this how it ends?" recalled Witts. 

He laughs about it now, but at the time he and several others were quite concerned.

"He was sweating profusely so it was clear that he was in serious distress," said police Chief Roy Whitehead.

Whitehead was at the same luncheon with Witts when a colleague told him the mayor pro-tem needed him in the hallway. When Whitehead saw what was happening, he didn't waste a moment.

"Your instinct kicks in and you do what you know needs to be done," said Whitehead.

After receiving the Heimlich from Whitehead, Witts could breath again. He says that first breath of air was the sweetest he's ever had.

Nearly as sweet will be the breath he can exhale when he finally finishes the delayed veterans memorial he is spearheading in front of City Hall.

The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated this weekend, and there is still much to do.

The waterfall and the 10-foot structure which the eternal flame will sit upon need to be installed.

Brick layers were busy putting the final touches on that space Tuesday, while other workers were just starting to place the veteran nameplates on the wall.

Witts was helping by organizing those name plates. His feverish push to get the project done on time shows just how much it means to him.

"When I got elected to office in 2009, one of the things that I told myself before I left - I was going to have the eternal flame lit," said Witts.

The eternal flame was extinguished nearly 10 years ago when the memorial it was part of was moved to the new City Hall.

Because the new building is not equipped with gas, the flame was never lit again.

Witts plans to be there Saturday when that all changes, and he has Whitehead to thank for it.

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