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March 22, 2007 Issue

Artillery shell found near gas station
Three charged with setting numerous fires in two counties
Manhunt successful

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Artillery shell found near gas station

• Bomb squad technician determined foot-and-a-half-long projectile is a training round

By Parish Howard

Larry Herndon was collecting discarded cans around a dumpster on Highway 80 in Wrens Tuesday, March 12, when he came across a piece of metal he didn’t want to touch.

Lying in the weeds just a few yards from the dumpster and less than 50 yards from Jet #66’s gas pumps, was what appeared to be a U.S. military heavy artillery shell.


“I knew what it was when I first seen it,” Herndon said. “I was concerned about someone cutting grass along here and hitting it or throwing a rock that might hit it. It could have killed everyone around here.”

Herndon said he then called Wrens Police Department who arrived on the scene a little after 4 p.m.

Wrens Police Chief David Hannah said his office immediately contacted the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad.

The responding bomb technicians determined that the object’s nose was not adjustable, did not have a standard fuse mechanism, and so therefore surmised that it must be a training round.

“After World War II and Korea soldiers brought home all sorts of souvenirs,” said Deputy Steve Douglas, Richmond County S.O. bomb technician.

“Basically anything that would fit in a duffel bag was fair game. Since then, a lot of these items have been used as doorstops and mantel relics.

“Since 9/11 a lot of people are more edgy. They don’t want these potential explosives that belong to the U.S. government in their homes.” Technically speaking, he went on to explain, the item actually belongs to the United States Army. Douglas explained that a military field artillery unit fires, collects and reuses solid-metal non-exploding training rounds like this one during practice maneuvers. “As we lose more and more of our WWII veterans, family members going through their things are finding hand grenades and mortar shells, all sorts of things they brought home,” Douglas said. “They get scared and they dump them. It’s not everyday that we come across these items, but it is getting more and more frequent. It certainly isn’t uncommon.”

Chief Hannah said the projectile was later turned over to U.S. Army officials at Fort Gordon. One local law enforcement officer asked the explosive experts on hand about the potential damage an artillery shell that size could do. “If it were a live round fired appropriately, it would level that building,” he said pointing to the nearby gas station.

“If anyone comes across something like this, leave it alone. Call us. This is what we do.”

Three charged with setting numerous fires in two counties

• Trio admits to setting five of around 35 mysterious fires, officers say

By Carol McLeod and Parish Howard
Staff Writer / Publisher

As of Saturday night, some of the mystery has been taken out of the nearly 35 mysterious fires in the north ends of Jefferson and Burke counties in the last several months.

Three people were arrested over the weekend for setting at least five fires, according to a spokesman with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.


Anthony Carl Hobbs, 19, of Matthews; Brandon Atkinson, 22, of Blythe; and Tara Renee Norton, 18, also of Blythe, were arrested around 3 a.m. Sunday, March 18, the spokesman said.

The Fires

“We’ve been thinking for some time that we had someone setting fires,” said Matthews Fire Chief Barrow Walden.

“But over the last couple of weeks, they’d really picked things up.”

He described woods fires just a mile or two away from abandoned homes, multiple fires in a single evening and multiple fires on several nights a week.

“And some of these abandoned structures didn’t have any power run to them or anything,” Walden said.

“For the last solid week the Matthews Fire Department in association with Wrens had been working to catch these subjects.

I guess it paid off Saturday.”

Walden said that area departments had fought multiple fires every day for seven days straight, March 9-16.

“Several homeowners came to me Friday and said they had been praying that these people would be caught,” he said. “They were scared.

Then we had a lull, with no fires that night.

Well, we had a feeling it would start back on Saturday so we were ready.”

According to the sheriff’s office spokesman, the fire calls started coming in around 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Between 9:30 p.m. and 1 a.m., there were three structure fires, two wood fires and one dumpster fire between Zebina and Avera.

Two of the structures were completely destroyed, according to the spokesman, who added all the structures were abandoned buildings.

Countywide, Saturday alone, there were nine fires fought by department in the north and central portions of the county.

“One of the things that I wanted to say was even with all the fires, nobody was injured and everybody worked real well, responding,” said Dave Beachy, the fire chief at Hillcrest Fire Department.

“When we were on the call for the structure fire on Clarke’s Mill Road, before we were through, we got the call on Sandvalley Road and Adams Road and while the engine was en route to that call, they came across a single wide trailer that was set (on fire) on the Highway 296 and Sandvalley Road intersection.”

Beachy said he got home from all the fires around 4:30 Sunday morning and had received the first call about 9:45 Saturday night.

He said the various fire departments worked well together and it paid off.

The Arrest

“We had noticed a pattern,” Walden said. “It seemed like fires were being set in the Matthews area early on, and then they were moving out into the surrounding county, Stapleton and Avera areas, and then moving back to Matthews.

So we had firemen set up in different zones looking for suspicious vehicles.”

The Sheriff’s Office spokesman credits an eyewitness who called 911 with identifying a vehicle in the area of one of the fires. The vehicle was later spotted by a Matthews fireman who tried to read the license plate. When the fireman moved close to the vehicle, the car sped up and immediately left the area.

The car was later abandoned when it broke down.

“Which tends to happen when you run a car 120 mph without oil,” the S.O. spokesman said.

Walden said that the vehicle’s three occupants fled into a wooded area and DNR Rangers and Sheriff’s Office Deputies tracked them until early Sunday morning when they were apprehended on Highway 80.

“We felt like if we didn’t catch them that night, we might never catch them,” Walden said. “I’m just really glad we got them. I credit the Matthews' ladies’ prayers and appreciate all the cooperation we got from the other departments and the Sheriff’s Office.”

During interrogation efforts, the three confessed to setting five of the six fires, according to law enforcement.

“We’re also looking at them for several other fires in north Jefferson and western Burke counties,” the spokesman said.

Burke County firefighters responded to seven field, woods, and abandoned home and trailer fires between Wednesday night and Saturday morning of last week.

According to reports, a blue car occupied by two white men and a white woman had been seen near one of the Burke County fires.

Walden claims that since the arrest, he found a wallet, complete with the identification of one of those charged in the arrests, at the scene of one of the fires as yet unattributed to the trio.

“I want to encourage citizens to call 911 any time they see any suspicious activity around a fire,” Walden said.

“Citizens can make a real difference. Don’t hesitate to call.”

As of press time on Tuesday, Hobbs, Atkinson and Norton were still under investigation.

It is expected they will each be charged with fire-related offenses.

Manhunt successful

• Two Wrens men charged with armed robbery of Lincolnton bank

By Parish Howard

FBI and GBI agents joined Jefferson County officers in a manhunt last Wednesday, March 14 for two Wrens men in connection to an armed bank robbery earlier that afternoon.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Gary Nicholson said two men entered the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Lincolnton Wednesday around 2:45 p.m.


At least one brandished a weapon and demanded money. Lincoln County officers encountered two men meeting the description of the robbers and gave chase.

During the pursuit, the suspects abandoned a 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix and escaped on foot into a wooded area.

According to Nicholson, the stolen money was later recovered in the area where the foot chase took place.

Wrens Police Chief David Hannah said he received a call from the GBI around 5:15 p.m. saying they had determined the suspects were from the Wrens area.

“They had a last name and I helped put together who they were looking for,” Hannah said.

“That’s when we started surveillance and within minutes FBI and GBI officers began arriving.”

A Georgia State Patrol helicopter made several passes over the city looking for the blue Mercury in which investigators believed the suspects eventually left Lincoln County.

By 7 p.m. state and federal agents, along with armed officers from Wrens P.D., Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the GSP had surrounded a Green Meadows Apartment and a house at the corner of Fleming and Walker Streets where the blue Mercury was parked.

The house was only two blocks from the Wrens Police Station.

Chief Hannah was at the intersection waiting for Richmond County’s SWAT team to arrive and search the Fleming Street home when he said he was approached by 19-year-old Juwan Beard.

“One of the suspects approached me from behind and tapped me on the shoulder and told me he needed to talk to me,” Hannah said. “He said he had been there, he had seen it.

When I realized who it was, we took him into custody.”

After the SWAT team cleared the residence, officers received reports that the second suspect, 25-year-old Anthony Emetu, also of Wrens, was seen in the Louisville area.

Officers followed leads into the early morning hours Thursday before Emetu turned himself in to a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator later that afternoon.

Both Beard and Emetu are charged with felony armed robbery and are being held in the Lincoln County jail.

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