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Ex-teacher caught in Tennessee

Girl found safe after high speed chase

POSTED: March 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Madison Kerr

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Jerry Norman Jones spray-painted his white car black and led Tennessee authorities on a car chase topping 100 mph, officials said, but ultimately couldn’t elude the manhunt that had been on since he fled North Georgia with his young daughter a week ago.

"We were not going to let him get away with this little girl," said Rutherford County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Goodwin.

Jones, 51, had five patrol cars behind him with their sirens blaring when he wrecked his Ford Taurus on a rural road in Smyrna, Tenn., at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, ending a search covering three states led by the U.S. Marshals Service.

The former Gainesville Elementary School teacher, accused of molesting four third-grade students, left his sister’s house in Cumming early on the morning of Feb. 15 after learning he was wanted on a violation of his $40,000 bond. He took his 4-year-old daughter, Madison Kerr, with him.

The girl suffered what were described as minor injuries in the wreck, officials said.

The 12-mile chase ended when Jones’ car crossed over the center line and clipped the back end of a pickup truck, sending him into a spin, Goodwin said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said U.S. marshals tracked Jones to a Ramada Inn in Franklin, Tenn., at about 8 a.m. Thursday. When the marshals moved in to make an arrest, Jones fled with his daughter in a white 1996 Ford Taurus, Helm said. Jones ran over a fence, driving east, and was able to lose the marshals who were pursuing him, she said.

An Amber Alert for an abducted child was issued by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The

lookout was posted on local radio and television stations, leading to a tip from a person who saw a similar car on Interstate 40 west of Franklin, Goodwin said.

Shortly after 10 a.m., a Rutherford County deputy who heard the lookout spotted a black Ford Taurus with its hood up at a car wash. The deputy noticed that there were patches of white on the roof and front end of the car. As the deputy was checking the tag, Jones, who had been spray-painting the car, jumped in and sped down the Sam Ridley Parkway, a busy thoroughfare of Rutherford County, Goodwin said. Speeds during the ensuing chase peaked at 110 mph, Goodwin said.

After the crash, Madison Kerr was found in the back seat, in a child restraint but not strapped into the seat, "cocooned" by clothing and household items, Goodwin said.

"She was a little bewildered, but she wasn’t crying when we brought her out," Goodwin said.

The child was taken to nearby Stonecrest Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries. Goodwin said the girl sustained a small abrasion on her foot.

Jones was not injured in the crash.

He was booked into the Rutherford County, Tenn., jail on five counts of reckless endangerment and evading an arrest in a motor vehicle. It was not known if he would waive extradition to Georgia. A message left with his attorney in Gainesville, Greg Valpey, was not returned.

The girl’s mother, Rene Kerr of Commerce, was traveling with marshals Thursday to Tennessee to be reunited with her daughter, Goodwin said.

A person answering the phone at Kerr’s home declined to speak with The Times.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said he was notified of Jones’ capture at about noon Thursday.

"We’re pleased to have him back in custody so we can deal with the local case and the issue of whether his bond should be revoked," Darragh said. "We’re pleased that the child was located, and hopefully she’s fine."

Darragh said he had been kept regularly apprised of the search and confirmed that U.S. Marshals had been actively involved in looking for Jones since he fled. Jones was tracked to a location in Alabama a few days after he left, Darragh said. It was believed that authorities used similar means, which were not disclosed, to locate Jones in Tennessee.

Jones was arrested Dec. 15 by Gainesville police on charges that he fondled three 9-year-old girls and an 8-year-old girl in his classroom at Gainesville Elementary School.

He had been employed as a third-grade teacher at the school off McEver Road for about a year when another teacher complained to principal Priscilla Collins that he appeared to be conducting himself inappropriately with students, school officials said.

Jones resigned a day after being confronted with the allegations and was arrested four days after he quit.

Senior Superior Court Judge John Girardeau granted a $40,000 bond for Jones on Jan. 7, with the condition that the defendant remain confined to his sister’s home in Cumming and could only venture out if accompanied by his sister.

Jones fled with his daughter, who was at his sister’s for an agreed-upon visitation, when he learned by a phone call from his wife that authorities were looking to arrest him for allegedly violating his bond conditions.

Jones’ wife said this week she believed he was innocent of the molestation charges and was not worried that he would intentionally harm their daughter.

Kerr expressed concern, however, that a confrontation with authorities could turn dangerous.

"Obviously, he’s not acting rationally, so I worry about the decisions he might make," she said Tuesday.



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