2021: Top 5 Read Stories of the Year

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, January 5, 2022

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1. Catalytic Converter Theft Ring Busted

With nearly 9,000 views, the top-read story of 2021 happened in November, when the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office, along with Bainbridge Public Safety, the Grady County Sheriff’s Office, the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, the Camilla Police Department and the Early County Sheriff’s Office arrested nearly 24 people in a catalytic converter theft ring, known as Operation Alchemy.

The case began when two separate individuals contacted Sheriff Wiley Griffin concerning catalytic converter thefts and resales in Southwest Georgia.

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From there, investigators began tracking down the individuals responsible. The investigation spanned months and was charged as a Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case.

The charges the 24 individuals faced included conspiracy to commit a crime, theft by receiving stolen property, theft by taking, false statements and writings, verifiable documentation required and possession of a controlled substance.

Following the arrests of the 24 individuals responsible, Griffin indefinitely suspended three secondary metal recycling permits to businesses in Decatur County, including SmithCo. Recycling.

The case is currently still an active investigation, as individuals are still wanted in connection to the theft ring.

2. Local Elementary student drowns in Gulf of Mexico

In September, we were sad to report that local elementary school student, Kayden Evans had drowned in the Gulf of Mexico, while vacationing with his family.

According to reports, Evans was swimming with Curtis Wright, 13, when they became caught in a rip tide. Wright was able to be pulled to shore by a group of bystanders, while his stepfather, Naikel Bass, jumped in to save Evans.

However, Bass and Evans never returned.

As a result, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the United States Coast Guard were sent in search of them, along with the Panama City Beach Police Department.

Later that evening on Saturday, September 18, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported they had located someone, who they eventually identified as Bass.

Bass was later announced deceased that evening, after he was announced unconscious.

The following day, Evans was found in the surf, deceased.

Funeral services were later held for Evans on September 26, at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

3. Bainbridge woman arrested in Dothan murder investigation

In a recent story that shocked readers, Zycheria Russ of Bainbridge, was arrested in connection to a murder that occurred in Dothan.

On December 10, the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office, Bainbridge Public Safety, the Dothan Police Department, the Houston County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Marshall’s Office executed an arrest warrant at the known address of Russ for her outstanding capital murder warrant in Dothan.

The murder happened in October 2021, when a Dothan resident was found shot inside his home.

The evidence found inside the home implicated Solomon Cooper of Climax, Ga., along with Russ.

The DCSO and BPS later began working to obtain additional evidence for the murder case. Following her arrest, Russ was extradited to Houston County Jail in Dothan to answer to the capital murder charge, while Cooper waited at the Muscogee County Jail for unrelated charges. Once he is released from the jail in Columbus, he will have to answer to charges he faces in Decatur County for entering automobiles and various weapons charges. He will then be transferred to the Houston County Jail to also answer to the capital murder charges.

4. Havana woman arrested after leading DCSO on chase

In March, Gwendolyn Allen was arrested by the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office after she led them on a chase through town.

Gadsden County deputies were in pursuit of Allen after she attempted to run them over, when she traveled through the Decatur County line.

The deputies radioed in that they were in need of assistance. Deputy Timothy Fowler of the DCSO then joined the chase, deploying stop sticks, in hopes of stopping Allen.

DCSO Investigator Vincent Edmond also responded to the call, chasing after Allen at an excess speed of 90 mph.

Fowler deployed the stop sticks, which made contact with Allen’s vehicle. The vehicle eventually came to a complete stop at the Glen Oaks Motel on Tallahassee Highway. There, officers searched Allen’s vehicle and charged her with attempting to flee or elude peace officer, failure to maintain lane and speeding.

5. Bainbridge Public Safety arrests accused hit-and-run subject

Last October, Victoria Michelle Johnson was arrested and charged with hit and run, reckless conduct, reckless driving while license is suspended or revoked, and two counts of aggravated assault.

The alleged crimes occurred at the intersection of Water and Collier Street, when Bainbridge Public Safety was informed of a fight taking place. While en route, the situation had escalated from a fight to a hit and run, with one subject being hit by a blue Chevrolet Camaro and other bystanders allegedly being targeted. The victim was transported to Memorial Hospital by Decatur-Grady EMS.

At the scene, the BPS officers found fresh tire tracks leading to the spot where the victim had been found, as well as a broken passenger-side mirror matching the Camaro’s description.

Johnson contacted BPS the following day to give her side of the story. Officers met her at her residence, and she stated she didn’t believe she had hit anybody. This was contradicted by eyewitness testimony and video, which suggested at least the victim’s injury had been intentional. According to investigator Josh Glover, Johnson and the victim had been arguing via Facebook in the days leading to them meeting in person to fight.

In an official statement, Glover said, “Many people don’t realize that the details provided by witnesses can be a critical element of the evidence gathered by officers. If a person is a witness to an accident or crime and can safely remain in the area to speak to an officer, it’s very important that they do so.”