LUDOWICI, Ga. (WSAV) – A Long County deputy died in the line of duty early Thursday morning while he was chasing a suspect who now remains at large.

The Long County Sheriff’s Office has identified the fallen as Deputy Sheriff Sheldon Whiteman, of Ludowici. He was 44.

Georgia State Patrol (GSP) Captain Thornell King says Whiteman was assisting in a pursuit that started in Ludowici after a police officer saw a driver running stop signs.

Officials say Whiteman was involved in an accident when his vehicle left the roadway on Highway 57 not far from Tibet Road.

The vehicle ended up about 100 feet into the woodline.

Whiteman was transported to Liberty Regional Medical Center in Hinesville where he was pronounced deceased.

“We train each and every day. We have meetings, we have discussions dealing with the dangers of the job and we try to critique those to keep us safe but unfortunately, accidents happen and this is one of those unfortunate accidents,” said Long County Sheriff Craig Nobles.

Georgia State Patrol (GSP) and assisting agencies found the suspect’s car miles away on Gobbler Lane in McIntosh County.

“We’ve had tracking dogs as well as helicopters out up in the air to try and track down the subject,” said GSP Capt. Thornell King. “At this time, he’s still at large.”

Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes said the department’s tracking dog, Charlie, was able to pick up the suspect’s scent inside a nearby woodline. But the scent ended on a dirt road where Sikes said it is believed the suspect may have been picked up by someone.

He added that they are awaiting a warrant to be issued to search the vehicle and property.

“We put our lives on the line each and every day we go to work. It’s a sacrifice that only good men and women are willing to make,” said Nobles, adding, “Deputy Whiteman was one of those people.”

As Whiteman’s body was taken from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Pooler to Howard’s Funeral home in Ludowici, dozens of law enforcement officers and first responders lined the streets to pay their respects.

Whiteman joined the Long County Sheriff’s Office in September 2019. His passing marks the third law enforcement death in Long County since 2016.

Prior to his position at the sheriff’s office, he served in Chatham County for four years. He had also been a certified peace officer since November of 2016.

The Long County Sheriff’s Office says Whiteman was a loving husband and father. He is survived by his wife, Alisa Ann Whiteman, and three sons, A’ron Whiteman, 16, Arion Whiteman, 13, and Shiloh Whiteman, 11.

Funeral arrangments and services for the deputy are being finalized.

Contributions to this report made by Lewis Levine, Coastal News Service