Reward offered in drive-by gunfire incidents

Authorities are continuing to investigate a string of drive-by gunfire incidents that began a week ago in Athens, and have announced a cash reward for information that helps in the identification and arrest of those responsible for the violence.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrests of any of the drive-by shooters. Police are asking anyone with information to call 911 or contact Detective Scott Blair at (706) 613-3888 ext. 292. Also, anonymous calls can be made to the Crime Stoppers confidential tip line at (706) 705-4665.

Occupied homes were targeted in the four incidents, as was a vehicle that contained child passengers, but no injuries were reported. At least two of the shootings were said by Athens-Clarke County police to have been gang-related, and several known gang members have been taken off the streets since the outbreak of drive-by incidents on March 3.

Placing gang members in detention for new violations as they occur has helped police prevent any additional violence before anyone gets seriously injured or killed, said Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Jerry Saulters, commanding officer of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division. Additionally, having gang members in custody provides police with an opportunity to press them for any information they might have on the drive-by gunfire.

“This type of violence will not be tolerated and we will put all resources on identifying and arresting these criminals,” Saulters said.

There have been numerous gang-related shootings from moving vehicles in various parts of Athens-Clarke County over the past three years. Two of the incidents involved fatalities, one of whom was a young woman who was in a parked car when a gun battle broke out between gang members near Brooklyn Street and Hawthorne Extension in November 2015.

There have been scattered incidents since then, but a shooting between rival gang members on Trail Creek Street in July of last year resulted in the highest number of casualties to date, as seven people were injured. None of the injuries in that incident were life-threatening.

The first in the most recent spate of drive-by shootings occurred just after 7 p.m. March 3. Officers responded to Athens Gardens apartments off Lexington Road where 10 to 15 gunshots were heard. No victims or suspects were located and police said they did not receive much help from residents.

Less than 24 hours later, at about 4 p.m. March 4, police said they again went to Athens Gardens, where they found a woman holding a gun as she stood outside her minivan. According to police, the woman said she was leaving the complex when gunfire broke out, and her windshield was damaged by a bullet. She told police she had a concealed-carry weapons permit and would protect her children “if need be.”

Just after 2:30 a.m. March 5, police received reports that a home on Onyx Place in southeastern Athens-Clarke County had been struck by at least 10 bullets during a drive-by shooting. Police noted at the time of the shooting that one of the residents, a known gang member, had previously been at a convenience store where the clerk was offered drugs in exchange for merchandise.

About an hour later on March 5, officers responded to Stonehenge Way in reference to reports that shots were fired at a house. The person who called police told officers she was awakened by the gunfire, and officers found two bullet holes in living-room windows. Two other people who were inside the residence said they were watching TV, saw headlights outside, and then heard three gunshots and the sound of a vehicle speeding away.

The violence prompted Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Scott Freeman to immediately call on residents for assistance.

“I’m asking for our community to help their police department here,” the chief said immediately following the incidents. “We need someone to come forward and help us. … I’ll actually make a plea to the person(s) involved to come forward and turn themselves in. We are already working on various leads and we are going to go after those responsible with the full might of the ACCPD.”

Follow Criminal Justice reporter Joe Johnson at www.facebook.com/JoeJohnsonABH or www.twitter.com/JoeJohnsonABH.

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