The eagle eye of one deputy led to the arrest of several burglars who investigators believe are responsible for “tens of thousands dollars worth of damage” to local homes.
The suspects are believed to have been involved in eight residential burglaries across the county earlier this week, according to Chief Deputy James Yarbrough with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.
Several families in the eastern part of the county were victims of burglars stealing appliances and, in several cases, leaving behind flooded homes after ripping out dishwashers and refrigerators with running water lines, Yarbrough said.
Tuesday morning, a homeowner on Indian Bluff Drive called deputies after checking on a home and noticing water running out of the front door, according to Lt. John Kennedy. This pattern matched several other homes that were the site of burglaries, including some in the McIntosh Estates, Andrew Bailey and E. Highway 16 areas.
“Each home had a for sale or for rent sign in the front yard,” Kennedy said. “Due to the time between the robbery and the discovery by the owners, several homes were flooded extensively, causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.”
One homeowner on McIntosh Overlook was set to finalize the sale of his home in a matter of days when he arrived to find water pouring from the front door of the house, according to Kennedy.
Based on the evidence at each scene, the time of day and location, it became clear to investigators that the incidents were all related. Kennedy credits one neighbor with surveillance camera footage that allowed investigators to identify the vehicle used in the burglaries as a 10-foot U-Haul truck.
Wednesday morning, Deputy Shane Warren was patrolling down Tope Road when he observed a U-Haul backed up in the driveway of a home with a for sale sign in the front yard. The truck was approximately 200 feet from the road, and would have been almost impossible to see if leaves were still on the trees, Kennedy said.
At the residence, Warren took two suspects into custody who were allegedly in possession of appliances stolen from another house.
Both suspects allegedly told Warren the U-Haul was not theirs, and the driver had left in an unknown vehicle traveling in an unknown direction. Neither suspect claimed to know who rented the truck, according to Kennedy.
Anton Octavious Johnson, 20, and Mark Anthony Simon Jr., 22, were arrested and charged with two counts of first degree burglary.
Inside the truck, a handwritten note was allegedly found with the addresses of 8 different homes – the first being the home on Indian Bluff Drive, which was crossed out.
Another home on Mansour Circle inside the Newnan city limits was written on the list, but not crossed out. When members of the Newnan Police Department drove to the home to investigate, they saw water coming out of the front door of the home and subsequently noticed several missing appliances, Kennedy said.
Sgt. David Schrepfer with the Newnan Police Department assisted the sheriff’s office with several interviews and can possibly link the burglaries to another similar incident on Camphor Drive earlier this month.
The U-Haul was found to have been rented by Misty Fife, 36, a Newnan resident who allegedly traveled to DeKalb County to rent the truck for her boyfriend, Marcus Nix, 31, who does not possess a valid driver’s license, Kennedy said.
Both were taken into custody following a traffic stop where deputies spotted Nix driving Fife’s car, but then jumped into the backseat once the car was pulled over, according to Kennedy.
Based on the interviews with all parties, Nix and Fife were arrested on charges of burglary and permitting an unlicensed person to drive, but additional charges will be filed in connection with the eight known residential burglaries involving appliance thefts, including criminal damage to property, according to Kennedy.
“I think most homeowners would have been a lot more forgiving if they had just stolen the appliances,” Kennedy said. “But to leave such a wake of destruction behind, they delayed closings and caused so much headache with insurance claims. It’s a magnitude of money and time.”
Sheriff Mike Yeager praised the observational skills of Deputy Warren, citing the communication between investigators and patrol.
“That’s what good patrolling is all about, observing what’s around you, and passing along information can make things fall right into place,” Yeager said. “We’re very glad to have this case wrapped up before Christmas because it really had the potential to get even uglier.”
Clay Neely: firstname.lastname@example.org, @clayneely