By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Bond set for two soldiers in explosion
Attorney: Incident in parking lot was prank
Placeholder Image

An attorney for one of three Dahlonega soldiers accused of tossing grenade simulators into a Dawsonville crowd earlier this month said his client cannot pay the $200,000 bond a judge set Aug. 19.


“I really don’t see how he can do it,” said Ridge Rairigh, who represents 34-year-old Jeremy Wade Morgan, an Army staff sergeant at nearby Camp Frank D. Merrill.


Morgan, who lives in Dawsonville, was arrested Aug. 8 along with Spc. Nicholas Gregory Wendt, 25, and Sgt. Thomas Daniel Campbell, 21, after they reportedly tossed two Army-issued training grenade simulators into a crowd at the Ingles parking lot on Ga. 400.


All three soldiers are stationed at Camp Merrill, an Army ranger training facility in Dahlonega.


The crowd of about 16 people included a 7-month-old who was in a stroller and an 18-month-old who was sleeping in the back of a parked truck.


Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said the $200,000 bonds set for Wendt and Morgan are high but warranted due to the serious nature of the crime.


“This is an appropriate bond for someone charged with 16 counts of aggravated assault and cruelty to children,” Deal said.


In addition to felony aggravated assault and two counts of cruelty to children, the pair also has been charged with domestic terrorism and possession of destructive devices.


Other charges include the possession, transportation or use of a destructive device with intent to intimidate and 16 misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct.


Deal said he would revisit the bond amount in a few weeks if the defendants could not raise the money.


Campbell, who authorities say was driving the vehicle in which Wendt and Morgan were traveling, was not scheduled to be in court last week.


His attorney, Gerald Bruce, has not requested a bond hearing.


All three suspects are scheduled to appear in Magistrate Court on Monday for probable cause hearings.


Capt. David Nelson, Camp Merrill company commander, said the three soldiers worked in support roles and were not training as Rangers.


Morgan is a non-commissioned officer in the human resources department where Campbell is also assigned. Wendt works on communication equipment, Nelson testified Aug. 19.


Dawson County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Goodie said the three soldiers had been drinking when they left Morgan’s Dawsonville home about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 7.


Witnesses said the trio cruised through the Ingles parking lot three times about 1:30 a.m. before tossing two grenade simulators, typically used in military training, within about 40 feet of the crowd.


Goodie, who spent six years in the military before joining the sheriff’s office and is familiar with the devices, testified that the first exploded near the crowd, while the second one did not detonate.


He read the instructions on the simulators, which caution users to wear a safety glove “on the throwing hand” and turn away from “after tossing.”


“I believe the devices could hurt someone even though they aren’t intended to,” Goodie said in court.


He said no one was physically injured in the explosion, though some in the crowd have reported having nightmares.


Under questioning by Rairigh, Goodie said he “probably wouldn’t have taken out the domestic terrorism” warrants.


Wendt’s attorney, Brett Turner, described the incident as a “dumb prank,” saying it had been “severely overcharged.”


He suggested the devices should be considered hoax devices rather than explosive devices.


Deal said the testimony indicated that it did “appear this was a drunk and stupid thing to do.”


“Unfortunately, sometimes when people do drunk and stupid things, people get hurt,” the judge said.


The Dawson County District Attorney’s office argued against bond, contending the men were flight risks and had access to explosives.


“The domestic terrorism ... is probably going away, but the rest are serious charges,” said Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer.


“Regardless of what the intent was, there were two toddlers out there in that group. The state’s position is they can get these things. The Army can’t even lock down their own explosives. How can they lock them [the suspects] down?”


There was little discussion during the Aug. 19 proceedings about how the defendants got the explosive devices, only that they had likely been in Morgan’s possession since January.


Nelson said the soldiers should not have had the devices, and the Army is conducting its own investigation.


If either suspect is able to make bond, Nelson said their leave privileges would be revoked, they would be closely monitored and he would ensure they attended any court appearances.


Morgan would also be required to live in the camp’s barracks, rather than at his home in Dawsonville with his wife and two children.


Additional bond conditions included random alcohol and drug screenings, weekly check-ins with pretrial services and confinement to the camp with monitored supervision when the soldiers are not working.


Neither man can possess any weapons, including training simulators.