|Tuesday, Jun 21, 2011|
Beginning in 2008, rangers and Cobb County police officers began investigating a series of incidents that involved catastrophic damage to the windshields of moving vehicles as they drove through the park and along immediately adjacent roadways. Evidence collected at the scenes established that objects were being shot and thrown/launched into vehicles by one or more people. Over 45 incidents occurred during the period between 2008 and 2010. It initially appeared that the shots were originating from a heavily wooded route through the park on Dallas Highway near John Ward Road. Nearly all of the incidents occurred during the hours of darkness and officers from both jurisdictions began continuous late night and early morning surveillances, employing FLIR (forward looking infrared) equipment loaned by the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia National Guard, who assisted with the surveillance. Ranger Anthony Winegar received several reports during the initial investigation that suggested that an oncoming gold GMC Denali pickup truck might have been involved. Winegar and Cobb County detectives then began working out a more detailed description of the truck and the county placed video surveillance cameras along the route. Incidents stopped and the case then went cold. Incidents began to reoccur in 2009, and in June a large metal object crashed through a vehicle’s driver’s side mirror housing, mirror and window before striking the driver in the chest. This time the video cameras captured a gold Denali pickup truck driving back and forth along the roadway, doing what the prosecutor called “sharking” for his prey. Detectives and Winegar began looking closely at the truck. They picked out distinguishing features and determined that there were only two such trucks registered in the area. One belonged to an elderly gentleman and the other belonged to a man named Charles Samuel Lewis. The video footage, as helpful as it was, did not reveal a license plate number. Cobb County police then put a video camera in Winegar’s front yard, hoping to catch Lewis travelling to and from incident locations. Incidents continued to occur, with the same pickup truck caught on video in the area at the appropriate times. Eventually, after a 90-year-old man was struck in broad daylight, cameras captured a license plate, identifying the truck as belonging to Lewis. The next piece of information needed was to identify the driver. One week later, Winegar and seasonal ranger Carlie Sells were travelling home by personal vehicle from a firearms range session at approximately 9:30 p.m. Lewis’s truck emerged from a curve in the oncoming lane. As Winegar and Lewis got closer, a metal object hit the passenger side of Winegar’s truck and rolled across the roof. Sells quickly used her phone to call police. Winegar and Sells both retrieved their weapons while Winegar conducted a quick U-turn and followed Lewis. Lewis sped up and continued through the park and into the city of Marietta. Winegar and Sells followed and remained on the phone with 911. Lewis ducked into a McDonald’s restaurant and drove to the back of the store where he began to turn around to face Winegar and Sells. Fearing an ambush, Winegar accelerated around the back of the store before Lewis could turn his larger truck around. Winegar continued to follow Lewis as he exited the back of the store parking lot. Marietta police eventually caught up with Lewis and Winegar, stopping Lewis. Cobb County police arrived and arrested Lewis. At the incident location where Winegar and Sells were hit, Winegar and Cobb officers found a live .22 caliber round and an empty box of .22 caliber bullets further down the road. Detectives then located a spent shell casing in Lewis’s truck. Lewis denied involvement. A search warrant at his residence and business revealed identical objects recovered from various scenes and several high-powered rifles with optics equipped for night viewing. A few weeks later, a grand jury indicted Lewis on 45 felony counts of terroristic acts. Lewis was released on bond, but tested positive for cocaine the morning of his first court appearance. After going back to jail, he was released on bond again. A week later, in October, 2010, Lewis assaulted Winegar while he was on his way to work. Lewis acted as though he was going to ram Winegar’s vehicle and pounded on his own dashboard. Winegar again retrieved his weapon and contacted 911. Lewis was arrested that afternoon for witness tampering and again incarcerated. He remained there until June 16th, when he appeared in court and pled guilty to several charges, including witness tampering, and was sentenced to 15 years. His maximum sentence possibility was 85 years. Lewis apologized to victims and stated that depression and anger caused him to do the things that he did, sparking what prosecutors called a “two year cycle of terror.” Media interest has been high throughout the entire investigation.