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September 11, 2003 Issue

Officers take to the air to search for men believed to be stealing components for methamphetamines.

Two arrested in manhunt

Three men were believed to be scouting area for components for methamphetamines

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Sept. 4 was a day of cat and mouse as determined officers from several agencies worked to apprehend two of the three men involved in an attempt to steal anhydrous ammonia from a farm north of Louisville.

Arrested in the incident was Dan Donaldson, 43, of Byron, and 24 year-old Macon resident James McCall. Both men were temporarily charged with possession of methamphetamines. Authorities are also looking for a third man believed to have been in the truck with the other two.

According to a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office more charges are pending review by the District Attorney's Office as a new set of laws specifically relating to the possession of anhydrous ammonia and other methamphetamine components took effect July 1.

Suspicious activity

The events leading to the arrests were triggered prior to 8 a.m. when local residents noticed a blue GMC 1500 pickup moving repeatedly along Wilcher Road and Bridges Road. Residents reported either two or three men in the vehicle.

The truck was found by a sheriff's deputy a short time later parked on the shoulder of Wilcher Road approximately three-quarters of a mile from US 1.

The lone man in the truck acted in a suspicious manner and was unable to answer questions, officers said. The man, later identified as Donaldson, told the deputy he bought a newspaper in Louisville and drove to the Wilcher Road location so that he could read it in a place where there was peace and quiet.

Though the business day had begun only minutes earlier, Donaldson told the officer he had just come from Augusta where he had applied for a job, yet he was unable to give the name of the company where he had applied.

Donaldson also told the deputy his passenger was a hitchhiker that he had dropped at a store in Louisville, but could not say where.

The deputy said Donaldson began to act suspiciously when he was asked to exit the vehicle.

Once outside, the deputy asked to see his driver's license. Donaldson responded by putting both hands behind his back.

About that time a voice came over the two-way radio in the GMC pickup, asking Donaldson if the officer was still there and instructing him to "eat what is in the ash tray."

Donaldson was arrested after the deputy found suspected methamphetamine inside the ashtray. Along with the methamphetmaine found in the truck, officers also found an empty tank and a pair of gloves.

In subsequent interviews with investigators, Donaldson acknowledged that he and the other men had come to Jefferson County to scout out the location of anhydrous ammonia tanks so they could return later that night to steal the chemical, officers said.

The search

The incident generated a daylong search for Donaldson's passengers. What was first thought to be a search for one man became a search for two after a local resident reported seeing three men in the vehicle earlier that morning. Officers also found two sets of tracks a short distance from where the truck was parked. The tracks were near an anhydrous ammonia tank at a farm that borders Wilcher Road and US 1.

The search continued throughout the day and included officers from the sheriff's office, Louisville police, Jefferson County Marshal's Department, state Department of Corrections K-9 unit and a Georgia State Patrol helicopter.

Also proving valuable throughout the day was the assistance provided by a number of local residents.

During the search of surrounding woods and fields, officers located the second two-way radio used by one of the men to communicate with Donaldson. Tracking dogs were able to follow the scent left by the two men but later lost it near Berrien Branch Creek.

Officers searched for the remainder of the day and into the night in an area bordered by Wilcher Road, Clarks Mill Road and US 1.

At approximately 9 p.m. a Berrien Branch Road resident called 911 to report that a man had come to her door asking to use the phone.

Minutes later McCall was spotted by an off duty officer stationed in a City of Louisville truck in the area of Berrien Branch Road and Clarks Mill Road. McCall was arrested at the scene.

The materials found in the truck driven by Donaldson were the same as those found in May in a truck on Grange Road where two men died and another was seriously injured.

The men died when the valve on an over-pressurized tank of ammonia in the cab of the truck blew off, causing near-instant death. The men died before they could exit the truck.

Donaldson told investigators he was an acquaintance of the survivor of the May incident.

Investigators said recent changes in the law make possession of anhydrous ammonia without a license or transporting it in an unauthorized container a felony.

Sheriff Gary Hutchins, officers and investigators praised the efforts of local residents who provided numerous types of assistance throughout the hot, humid day of searching. That assistance and the presence of extra sets of eyes during a search of that nature makes apprehension of suspects much more likely, they said.

DOT tanks leaking into ground

EPD gives until Sept. 15 to submit plan to either investigate or remediate

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Environmental issues over possible groundwater contamination have surfaced again in Jefferson County. This time the location is property owned by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) on Highway US 1 in Louisville.

Jefferson County commissioners were informed by county administrator Paul Bryan at the Sept. 2 work session that DOT has been given a Sept. 15 deadline to submit a plan to investigate or remediate "potential impact to the soil and/or groundwater caused by release from underground storage tanks" at the maintenance facility. The documentation is being required by Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

Though the types of chemicals released and the quantity of those chemicals will not be known until the DOT report has been filed, Atlanta EPD representative Winthrop Brown said the release did involve gasoline.

The DOT facility is on property adjacent to the old Jefferson County landfill. County commissioners are poised to spend in excess of $1 million over the next few years to mitigate environmental problems stemming from industrial solvents dumped there.

EPD's Underground Storage Tank Management Program under the Land Protection Branch will oversee the cleanup. DOT hired Mill Creek Environmental Services of Dawsonville to remediate the release.

Fall Line Freeway project is down to its final stages

Remaining sections of freeway along SR 88 due for completion in 2004

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

It is two down and two to go for the Fall Line Freeway construction projects that will cross Jefferson County in a 215-mile, east-west transit across Georgia.

Now virtually complete is the freeway section that links US 1 north of Wrens to the existing portion of the Fall Line in south Richmond County. All lanes of the most heavily traveled section of the developing freeway inside Jefferson County were opened in early summer.

The only work remaining north of Wrens, according to a Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson, is the containment of erosion areas long the stretch of roadway. APAC-Georgia crews continue to fill and re-grass eroded areas caused by heavy rains.

The original contract deadline for the $26 million Wrens to Richmond /County project was Dec. 31, 2002.

The remaining sections of the Fall Line along SR 88 between Wrens and Sandersville consist of two projects due for completion in 2004.

Construction on the 9.4-mile section from SR 296 to SR 171 began in December of 2001 is midway in its construction.

As with other Fall Line projects, the $20 million effort by Baker Construction Co. includes reconstruction and realignment of the existing roadway to a four-lane divided highway. Also included is the construction of a bridge over Rocky Comfort Creek.

The contract completion for the project has been pushed forward to March 19, 2004 from the original date of Oct. 31, 2003.

The reason given for the contract extension was that additional work had been added to the project.

Work on the remaining section of the Fall Line Freeway in Jefferson County and beyond, an 11.6-mile stretch from SR 171 to the Sandersville bypass, began in March 2002.

Awarded to Shepherd Construction Co., the $22 million project is and appears to be on schedule.

Grading for the new lanes is complete and crews are currently preparing to shift onto a completed section of road so that another section can be built, DOT said.

The construction deadline for the project is June 30, 2004.

The Fall Line section on SR 88 from Wrens to SR 296 was the first project completed in Jefferson County. The four-mile section opened in 2000.

Once completed, the Fall Line Freeway will become the only east-west corridor through central Georgia. With a span of 215 miles, the Fall Line will link Augusta, Macon and Columbus.

Contracts for some of the other sections of the Fall Line, especially from Sandersville to Macon, have not been awarded and are behind schedule.

Funding for the Fall Line Freeway and the other Governor's Road Improvement Highways (GRIP) throughout Georgia have been hampered in part by the controversy over the Northern Arc in north metro Atlanta and by Gov. Sonny Perdue's resistance to utilize the funding source that spurred much of the construction in the past several years.

Perdue has yet to announce a new construction timetable or a method of funding.

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