During a Wednesday video, Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard called his agency and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office’s efforts key to catching the suspect behind a string of vandalisms and break-ins in both counties.
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“That was honestly, I believe, the success in solving these crimes here with these church incidents and these liquor stores that had gotten broken into,” Jarrard said in the joint video with Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson on Feb. 22.
Christopher Eric Reynolds, 33, of Dawsonville was arrested Feb. 20 and transported to the Dawson County Detention Center, where he remains without bond.
Johnson explained in a phone call with DCN that the string of incidents started on Feb. 5.
That evening, Reynolds targeted the newly-opened Elliott Package Outlet near Ga. 183 and Ga. 136, turning the store’s power off and returning later to take items, Johnson said.
Reynolds similarly targeted a liquor store off of Ga. 400 that evening and returned to the package outlet two more times to force entry there or at least turn its power off, Johnson added on Feb. 22.
Dawson County issued an initial be-on-the-lookout notice with Reynolds’ physical and vehicle descriptions on Feb. 6.
In the days after the Feb. 5 incident, churches in western Lumpkin County began experiencing burglaries. The suspect hit three churches and the gas station at the Ga. 9 and Ga. 52 west roundabout, Jarrard said on Feb. 22.
After getting some information about the locations impacted there, Lumpkin investigators entered their data and the verbal and video details from Dawson County into the Flock camera system. LCSO got a hit or result on Reynolds’ vehicle, and they then posted a nationwide BOLO.
Another hit came up in Hall County, where officers with the Oakwood Police Department identified Reynolds’ car based on the description of a black Ford Escape.
Meanwhile, Dawson County began doing surveillance on area churches and businesses within the scope of the suspect’s previous targets. LCSO also conducted surveillance on three possible residences of Reynolds’
Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies also assisted in search efforts, particularly on Feb. 17.
“Our understanding is that one of our traffic unit deputies conducted a routine traffic stop on Reynolds in our county on Friday for failure to maintain lane,” Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derreck Booth said. “Reynolds’ vehicle happened to match a BOLO out of Dawson County for their suspect vehicle. Our Traffic Unit deputy provided the identifying information on Reynolds (our driver) to (the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office).”
HCSO did not arrest Reynolds at that time, as there was not enough cause to do so.
Around 3:40 a.m. Feb. 20, Dawson County’s 911 center took a call from a Sawnee EMC crew responding to a power outage at the Holy Grounds Outreach Church on Heath Road. When the crew arrived, they noticed a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot and reported it.
Dawson County officers en route to the scene spotted the suspect’s vehicle traveling westbound on Ga. 136.
They conducted a traffic stop on the car at the Gold Creek Exxon at the intersection of Ga. 136 and Ga. 9. Reynolds was arrested and taken into Dawson County’s custody.
Early Monday afternoon, LCSO came down to DCSO’s jail to talk to Reynolds after he had already confessed to the crimes in Dawson County, Jarrard said.
In the Feb. 22 video, Johnson shared that he and DCSO “certainly appreciate Sawnee EMC being vigilant, being aware of what’s going on and contacting us.”
Reynolds is expected to face charges including several counts each of burglary and criminal damage to property and singular counts of possession of tools for the commission of a crime, theft by taking and criminal attempt to commit burglary.
His charges are currently pending, according to the Dawson County jail’s roster.
Jarrard said his office also intends to charge Reynolds in a Facebook video on Feb. 20.
Exact charges and other updates from the Dawson or Lumpkin County sheriff’s offices will be added as more details become available.
“However, this may not be confined to both Dawson and Lumpkin counties, so we don’t know what all is going to be out here or how long he (Reynolds) was actually doing this,” Johnson said on Feb. 22.
In that video, Johnson also called Flock “very instrumental in identifying the suspect,” and Jarrard added that “it’s made for catching suspects like this.”
Johnson acknowledged the financial costs local businesses and churches can face from vandalism and burglary incidents like these.
“In secluded areas, when you get to where there’s not much traffic, these places become targets, unfortunately,” Johnson said.
The Dawson County sheriff encouraged people to take “proactive steps,” like lighting or backup power for cameras that may be connected to a building’s power.
With congregants upset about the theft and vandalism at area churches, LCSO “really, really tried to exhaust all resources to try to ensure we could get an arrest in a timely manner,” Jarrard said in the Feb. 22 video.
Jarrard asked victims to come up with an itemized list of property damaged or materials needed to be bought after the incidents and then take those lists to their local district attorney’s office as soon as possible so prosecutors can request restitution for those things.
Johnson encouraged any Dawson County business owners or church operators who’ve had their power tampered with and something doesn’t seem right to contact his agency.
“It was a good one (case) to close. DCSO did a lot of legwork and a lot of things behind the scenes…it was excellent police work, and I’m just proud of them,” Johnson added. “This guy needed to go to jail.”
Jarrard thanked all the law enforcement officers involved, victims who came forward with information and the Flock camera system.
“Hopefully, we can get this individual in the right direction and get him to change in life, and I hope that this will stop this from happening again,” Jarrard added on Feb. 22.
Note: Times reporter Nick Watson contributed Hall County-specific information to this story.