Three men arrested and charged Thursday morning by McMinn County authorities in connection with at least four incidents of tossing objects from Interstate 75 overpasses onto unsuspecting motorists have now been charged by Bradley County lawmen with the vandalism of heavy equipment at the Cleveland Municipal Airport construction site.
One of the I-75 attacks was the Nov. 28 assault against a Lee University passenger bus carrying 18 members and chaperones of the Voices of Lee student singing group. In that assault, an electric motor was tossed from the McMinn County Road 130 overpass.
The object crashed through the windshield, injuring driver Shelton Lewis and scattering shards of broken glass some 30 feet into the interior of the bus. No other injuries were reported.
Casey Shane Thomas, 18, Jeremy Michael Mulkey, 19, both of Athens, and Barry William Burbank, 20, of Sweetwater, were all charged Thursday afternoon in Bradley County with vandalism of more than $60,000 and will be arraigned Jan. 4.
The Bradley County charges were filed shortly after the McMinn County arrests.
Damage at the airport construction site occurred Nov. 17 when three pieces of earth-moving equipment sustained approximately $100,000 in damage.
As reported in Thursday’s print edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner and www.clevelandbanner.com, McMinn County charges include:
- Thomas, of Athens, was charged with three counts of reckless endangerment, two counts of felony vandalism over $500 and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit reckless homicide;
- Burbank, of Sweetwater, was charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of felony vandalism over $500; and
- Mulkey, of Athens, was 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 initial arrests came during the early morning hours Thursday following investigations that were conducted by the Criminal Investigations Divisions of McMinn County Sheriff’s Office, Athens Police Department, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Thomas, Burbank and Mulkey were all booked at the McMinn County Justice Center where they were being held awaiting arraignment.
The attack on the bus carrying the Voices of Lee, as well as two other reported incidents involving objects thrown from I-75 overpasses, spurred a reward campaign led by the Banner which received pledges up to $13,500 from businesses and legislators in Bradley and McMinn counties.
“The arrests of these individuals is a direct result of a cooperative effort between the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office and these other agencies,” said McMinn Sheriff Joe Guy. “This is the kind of cooperation our citizens deserve and this is the type of cooperation that results in crimes being solved.”
He added, “I am personally very proud of the efforts of my CID detectives — Lt. Eric Allman, Sgts. Gary Miller, Greg Earps and Tim Carver, Detective Heath Willis of Athens Police Department, and with the cooperation between McMinn, Bradley and the city of Cleveland as citizens and businesses came together to offer reward money and help keep the investigation moving.”
Guy confirmed at a news conference Thursday morning in Athens that all three confessed to the alleged crimes. He also provided information in a media release.
Guy also noted a fourth incident at an I-75 overpass at County Road 264 went unreported because no vehicles were struck by an object when the trio allegedly tossed it onto the interstate below. The type of object was not identified.
“There are no other suspects at this time,” Guy said.
Guy added that Mulkey is the defendant alleged to have thrown the fan motor which struck the Lee University bus.
When asked about motivation regarding the incidents which could have taken lives, investigator Allman said that according to one of the defendant’s statements it was “horseplay — just stupid fun.”
The nationally and internationally known Voices of Lee were traveling from Chambersburg, Pa., when their bus was struck by the fan motor, injuring the driver (Shelton Lewis) who nonetheless maintained control of the bus.
Damage to the bus was estimated at $40,000, according to Danny Murray, leader of the Voices of Lee.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland told media outlets of his appreciation for the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies and personnel involved in the complex investigation.
Rowland repeated past sentiments that the Voices of Lee are Cleveland’s ambassadors and to have an outcome any different than what occurred Nov. 28 would be unimaginable.
“They could have all lost their lives,” the Cleveland mayor said.
Rowland also extended his thanks to investigators and to the McMinn County sheriff.
Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth and Capt. Brian Quinn of BCSO’s CID also extended appreciation to the agencies in helping to close “this phase of the investigation” regarding the damage at the new Cleveland airport.
If the defendants are convicted, potential sentences will vary per charge.
According to officials at the 10th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office, reckless endangerment is a Class-E felony which carries a one to 2-year sentence. Felony vandalism is Class-E which carries a one to 2-year sentence. The Lee University bus damage was estimated at $40,000 which is in a Class-C range carrying a three to 6-year sentence and attempted reckless homicide is a Class-E felony which has a one to 2-year sentence. Criminal conspiracy to commit reckless homicide is a Class-E felony which also has a one to 2-year sentence.
In the Bradley County charges, the damage to heavy equipment at the airport totaled $100,000, resulting in a Class-B felony which can carry an eight to 12-year sentence.