By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer
A group of vandals scared many in a rural Tennessee community around Interstate 75 this fall and winter by allegedly tossing a mailbox, engine parts and other items from highway overpasses. Before New Year’s Eve, however, the three men were arrested and charged.
On Thursday, Dec. 30, McMinn County Sheriff’s Office arrested Casey Shane Thomas, 18, Jeremy Michael Mulkey, 19, and Barry William Burbank, 20. All three men were charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of felony vandalism over $500. Mulkey was charged with 18 counts of attempted reckless homicide, and both he and Thomas were also charged with one count of criminal conspiracy to commit reckless homicide.
The group threw items from I-75 overpasses on at least four occasions, including:
- Nov. 28, when an electric motor was thrown onto a Lee University passenger bus carrying 18 members of the Voices of Lee student singing group. The motor broke the bus windshield and hurt the bus driver.
- On Nov. 16, when a mailbox was thrown off an overpass near I-75’s 59-mile marker, striking the windshield of a tractor-trailer and injuring the driver. A McMinn County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said the driver had minor injuries.
The three men face additional charges in nearby Bradley County for vandalism of more than $60,000. They’re scheduled to face those charges on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
Before the arrests, outrage and concern from the incidents triggered extra patrols of overpasses by area law enforcement.
The incidents have united many in the McMinn County, TN, area. Community groups and businesses combined to raise $13,000 for information leading to arrests in the case. And detectives from two county sheriff’s departments, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Athens (TN) Police Department worked evidence and informants to crack the case.
A McMinn County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said last week’s arrests were like “a very good Christmas present for everyone out here.”
McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy told Land Line Now, OOIDA’s satellite radio news show on Sirius XM, that the men told investigators the incidents were “stupid fun.”
Guy said the men confessed to throwing the items. The investigation, he said, was helped by informants who spoke to the men about the incidents.
“They just overheard them,” Guy said. “I think one of them was just approached by one of the perpetrators who admitted to him what he had done.”
McMinn County has seen its share of items tossed from I-75 overpasses.
According to the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office, a Michigan woman was seriously injured in 1995 when someone hurled a stolen tombstone. In 2000, a woman was injured by a rock thrown through her windshield.
McMinn County Mayor John Gentry reportedly hailed the three arrests.
“I understand these gentlemen called it ‘stupid fun,’” Gentry said, according to newschannel9.com. “Well, we get the stupid part, we'll give them credit for that; they got that part right. It was definitely not fun, especially for the individuals who were victims of their crimes.”
The McMinn County Commission approved a resolution in late December asking the Tennessee Department of Transportation to study how to prevent items being thrown from overpasses in the future.
Copyright © 2011 OOIDA
Land Line Now Staff Reporter Reed Black contributed to this article.