Valor on Vance Road

A new documentary series produced by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) will honor acts of valor from the men and women in its ranks, and the first episode, entitled “Valor of Vance Road,” details a shooting that occurred 15 years ago on the outskirts of Kernersville on Veterans Day.
On Monday, the FCSO released an accompanying podcast of an interview between Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, Jr. and Jeremy Rowley, one of the deputies involved whose personal connection to the shooting goes far beyond that of a responding law enforcement officer arriving to the scene of a crime.
For Rowley, the connection was deeply personal.
The documentary begins with the fact that Deputy Rowley answered a call to shots fired at his father-in-law’s home on November 11, 2014. One of the first interviewed in the episode is retired Kernersville Police Officer Rocky Joyner, who now serves as chief deputy for the FCSO.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Joyner says to the camera. “When the call came out, Jeremy just basically said that he got a call from his mother-in-law saying there was a man with a gun.”
The episode goes on to play the audio recording of Pearl Johnson’s, Rowley’s mother-in-law, call to 911, in which she asked for sheriffs to be dispensed to her Vance Road address.
“Shots are fired. I don’t know if anyone’s hurt,” Johnson told the 911 dispatcher.
Johnson went on to tell the dispatcher that a deputy was trying to kill her husband, Reserve Deputy James Johnson, at Jeremy Rowley’s house.
“A lot of people started going that way,” Joyner continued.
Joyner was in the elevator at the sheriff’s office when news came in that Johnson had been shot. Those responding from the sheriff’s office in downtown Winston-Salem drove so fast to get there that they arrived in just six-and-a-half minutes.
“We drove so hard that our hubcaps at the time, that had the plastic bolts that held them on, melted and fell off the car as we pulled into the driveway,” Joyner said.
In her call to 911, Johnson identified the suspect as Denny Booth, a neighbor. She told the dispatcher that she could not have him kill her husband or son-in-law.
“Have you got someone dispatched?” she asked desperately.
Rowley, now a recently retired lieutenant with the FCSO, told the camera that he was in the basement doing laundry when his son, Matthew, brought him the phone and said his wife, Lori, was on the phone. He described her voice as panicked.
“She had been on the phone with her mom. Her mom had said that Denny, who was a neighbor in the neighborhood that had moved out a month prior, was down at their farm and had a gun and it was on ‘Daddo,’” Rowley said of the name the family called his father-in-law.
Pearl Johnson told the 911 dispatcher that her husband was unarmed and he didn’t even have his patrol car with him.
Rowley, after telling his children to get in a closet, grabbed his ballistic vest, weapon and radio and headed in his patrol car to the home of his in-laws on Drexdale Drive. As he was driving down the driveway, Rowley said he saw Booth, with a rifle in his hands, standing with his father-in-law, who was trying to diffuse the situation.
After getting out of his vehicle, Rowley immediately challenged Booth.
“I knew him. He was my neighbor for years and years prior to this,” Rowley explained, adding that he imagined at the time that he could talk him down.
Within seconds, Rowley said Johnson broke away from Booth, who had been using him as a human shield and ran toward a nearby field. According to Joyner, Booth shot Johnson several times.
Booth then turned his weapon on Rowley and a gunfight ensued.
“I was immediately hit,” Rowley said, but at the time he thought he’d only been struck in the arm. As it turns out, he was shot in the neck and chest, as well.
Still, the two exchanged rounds, with Rowley using his door and then the passenger side of his patrol car as cover. By the time he ran out of ammunition, Booth was on the ground. Rowley was able to retrieve his shotgun from the trunk of the patrol car.
“I’ve got my shotgun out. I can’t pump it. I’ve been hit in the left arm,” Rowley told radio dispatch from the FCSO. Still, he did just that, using one hand, and went back to the driver’s side door of his vehicle.
Rowley said Booth, who was lying on the ground, kept asking Rowley to shoot him. He also kept trying to go for his gun, Rowley radioed in. When Booth was finally able to reach his weapon and maneuver it around to use, Rowley fired at him with the shotgun.
One of the pellets from the shotgun’s buckshot struck Booth’s weapon, jamming it. At that point, Booth went to retrieve a handgun he’d dropped in the gunfight, and because he was unable to secure another round in the chamber of his weapon, Rowley retreated. As he did, he advised that his father-in-law was down in the field.
“I’m losing consciousness. James is down in the field. Direct those vehicles. You may not see him. He’s laying down in a grass field,” Rowley radioed.
Once on the scene, Joyner said deputies secured Booth, and then turned their attention to Johnson, who did not appear to be breathing. Deputies began CPR but to no avail as they waited on an ambulance.
Rowley was rushed to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center – Baptist Hospital at the time – where he underwent surgery. Before being taken into the operating room, he was able to provide investigators with a statement about the shooting. It took a year, but Rowley was returned to full duty in November 2005.
Deputy Johnson wasn’t Booth’s only victim that day. He also shot and killed neighbors Dwight Allen and Allen’s mother-in-law, Reba Idol. Allen was killed in his backyard, while Booth chased Idol around her home before shooting her.
Joyner noted the courage and valor it took for Rowley to respond to the situation with Booth.
“He went into the battle. He took it head on with a handgun against an assault rifle,” Joyner said.
Joyner noted that if Rowley had not managed to get one round off from his shotgun, which in turn jammed Booth’s weapon, Joyner himself and his trainee could have been the next victims.
“We probably would have took rounds from that,” Joyner said. “Officer Redmon, too, who got there before us. At the time, we had no idea where the shooter was and if he was able to continue shooting after Jeremy, he probably would have picked off the lot of us.”
He continued.
“Jeremy fighting through the last round of the shotgun saved a lot of lives that night,” Joyner said. “I think he saved my life and my trainee, which is my nephew, and I can’t say enough about how brave it is to stand alone against a man with an assault rifle with nothing but a handgun.”
At trial, Booth was convicted for the murders of Johnson, Allen and Idol and the attempted murder of Rowley. As a result, Booth, who died last year, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
According to Christine Howell, public affairs officer with the FCSO, the sheriff’s office plans to produce more episodes of its “The Valor Series,” all of which can be viewed on either the GoFCSONC YouTube channel or the sheriff office’s Facebook Page. Sheriff Kimbrough’s podcast is also available on both, Howell said.

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