McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy confirmed the arrests this morning and identified those charged and booked at the McMinn County Justice Center.
The trio, and the charges placed against each, include:
- Casey Thomas, 18, Athens, charged with three counts of reckless endangerment, two counts of felony vandalism over $500 and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit reckless homicide;
- Barry Burbank, 20, Sweetwater, charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of felony vandalism over $500; and
- Jeremy Mulkey, 19, Athens, charged with three counts of reckless endangerment, two counts of felony vandalism over $500, 18 counts of attempted reckless homicide and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit reckless homicide.
The three were taken into custody earlier this morning and later charged and booked, Guy said.
The attack on the Lee University bus involved the alleged dropping of what investigators said was a fan motor from McMinn County Road 130, onto the southbound passenger vehicle carrying the Voices of Lee singing group.
According to Danny Murray, leader of the nationally-known singing group, Shelton Lewis averted certain tragedy by maintaining control of the bus as the fan motor came crashing through the windshield, striking and injuring him. Murray said just a one-second difference in timing could have been fatal to Lewis and the passengers.
In spite of his injuries, Lewis brought the bus to a safe stop.
Glass was scattered throughout the bus, but no other injuries were reported.
The attack on the bus came during the Thanksgiving weekend as the singers were returning to Cleveland from a church service in Chambersburg, Penn.
A week prior, those charged are alleged to have dropped a mailbox onto the interstate and just last week, a truck driver spotted someone on an overpass tossing a mailbox attached to a wooden 4x4 post, according to Guy.
The object struck the top of the rig’s trailer. The driver was not injured but was able to provide a description to McMinn County investigators and other agencies who located tire tracks nearby where the perpetrators allegedly parked.
The Cleveland Daily Banner spearheaded a reward campaign which grew quickly to $13,500 as businesses and businessmen as well as local legislators who represent Bradley and McMinn counties, pledged support to help find those responsible for the attack on the Lee singers.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland issued a statement just after the announcement of the reward offering.
“The Voices of Lee are the greatest ambassadors any city could hope for and is nothing short of a miracle that a tragedy was averted. We are hopeful someone will come forward with the information that will be able to not only solve this crime, but prevent a similar occurrence in the future, perhaps with much worse results,” said Rowland.
Those pledging to the reward fund include the Banner, Athens Federal Community Bank, Mayor Tom and Sandra Rowland, Tarver Distributing, the Bank of Cleveland, Check into Cash, Lee University, Pioneer Credit Co. and Bradley County’s state representatives Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson, Senator-elect Mike Bell and McMinn County state representative-elect John Fogerty and the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force.
Only hours prior to the arrests, Guy told the Cleveland Daily Banner Wednesday his investigators were continuing to receive calls and develop new leads.
“We are very confident we are getting close,” he reported then, after getting what he said were “three good tips.”
Guy also pointed out today the three suspects may be involved in other investigations ongoing at the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office, but would not elaborate on what the alleged offenses may be.
Additional information will be released as it becomes available in the Banner’s print edition and website at www.clevelandbanner.com.