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Soldiers plead guilty in explosives case

Three sentenced to probation as first offenders

POSTED: February 23, 2011 4:00 a.m.
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Three Dahlonega soldiers arrested last year for tossing explosive devices into a crowded local parking lot pleaded guilty to the charges.

 

Spc. Nicholas Gregory Wendt, 26, and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Wade Morgan, 34, entered guilty pleas to one felony count each of aggravated assault and a misdemeanor reckless conduct.

 

The pair was arrested in August, along with 21-year-old Sgt. Thomas Daniel Campbell, who admitted to driving the car the night Wendt and Morgan tossed two training grenades into a group standing in the Ingles parking lot near Hwy. 400. The crowd included two babies.

 

Campbell pleaded guilty to fleeing and eluding, reckless driving and two counts of reckless conduct. His charges are misdemeanors.

 

The men, stationed at Camp Frank D. Merrill, were sentenced to probation as first offenders for the negotiated pleas. The probation is unsupervised as long as the soldiers remain in the military.

 

The trio was arrested following a brief chase on Ga. 400. They were initially charged with domestic terrorism, which was later dismissed.

 

According to court testimony, the men had been drinking when they left Morgan’s Dawsonville home about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 7.

 

Witnesses said the men drove through the grocery store parking lot three times before tossing two grenade simulators, typically used in military training, within about 40 feet of the crowd.

 

The first exploded near the gathering, while the second one did not detonate.

 

According to an Army spokesman, the soldiers should not have had the devices.

 

Wendt and Morgan each received a 10-year sentence, while Campbell’s sentence is 34 months.

 

All are required to write letters of apology to the victims and pay fines, ranging

from $1,350 to $3,500.

 

The sentences, handed down by Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, allow the men to receive $100 credit toward their fines for every month of active military service.

 

Ridge Rairigh, Morgan’s attorney, said the Army has allowed the soldiers to remain enlisted and active.

 

He said his client could be stationed in the Middle East when the unit is deployed later this year.

 

“I think the judge took that into consideration,” Rairigh said.

 

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