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Suspect dead, deputy injured in Lula standoff

Sheriff’s office springs to action; school locks down

POSTED: August 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Hall County SWAT team member heads for the standoff scene.

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Monday morning began like any other in Lula.

The train whistled through town as dawn broke, and hundreds of students boarded buses to begin their third day of school.

But the peace was shattered when an off-duty Gainesville police officer driving home in a police cruiser heard gunshots ring out at about 8:40 a.m., authorities said. The officer soon spotted a man toting a large-caliber handgun walking through the empty streets of downtown.

Shortly after noon, the incident ended with the suspect, Hubert Stanley Tate, 65, dead and a Hall County sheriff’s deputy wounded by gunfire.

The suspect and sheriff’s deputy were injured during several rounds of gunfire during a roughly two-hour standoff with the Hall County SWAT Team. Shots were periodically fired at the man’s Banks Street residence located two blocks from downtown Lula.

Hall County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kiley Sargent said Tate died from a gunshot wound shortly after arriving at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation currently is investigating the case and has yet to determine whether Tate died due to self-inflicted gunshot wounds or by shots fired by SWAT Team members

The deputy, Joe Groover, 35, has been with the sheriff’s department for three years. After being flown by helicopter to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Groover underwent more than four hours of surgery on his right arm.

Strickland said Groover is now in stable condition in the intensive care unit.

"Joe Groover is one of our best officers," Strickland said. "He’s just an outstanding young man. He really enjoys being a deputy sheriff."

According to Strickland, the incident escalated when Tate pointed his gun at the off-duty Gainesville police officer in downtown Lula but did not fire. The suspect then fled through a wooded area toward his home located about one block from Lula Elementary School.

The off-duty officer followed the man to his camper home on Banks Street, where a standoff with the Hall County SWAT Team ensued.

Gordon Higgins, spokesman for Hall County schools, said a 911 dispatcher called the school’s office at about 9 a.m. to alert school officials of an armed man seen two blocks from the school.

Higgins said the school immediately went into lockdown mode. Students were held inside classrooms and enacted the emergency safety response as practiced. He said Hall County sheriff’s deputies surrounded the school moments later.

Sargent said the school was locked down and streets in downtown Lula were blocked off as a security precaution. Tate never entered the campus, and no students, faculty or staff were harmed.

Main, Spring, Tower, Chattahoochee and Charlotte streets in downtown Lula were blocked off to traffic during the standoff.

As of Monday night, Sargent said authorities do not believe Tate intended to do harm to the school, and they are unaware of Tate’s motive or intentions.

Sargent said the lockdown at the school was lifted after the suspect was taken into custody shortly after noon.

Tate had been stumbling around in the street before the first officer arrived, said Mae Stewart, who saw him on her way into work at Lula Pharmacy near the school.

"He couldn’t walk straight," the cashier said. "He just fell down, then he got up, picked up his gun and started walking again."

After the confrontation in which Tate pointed his gun at the off-duty Gainesville officer, the officer waited for Hall County sheriff’s deputies to arrive before taking further action.

The sheriff’s department SWAT Team surrounded Tate’s residence in an attempt to negotiate with him at about 10:45 a.m.

When the suspect fired his gun at the SWAT Team, the team gassed the man’s home, according to Strickland.

The school’s 550 students were on lockdown in their classrooms for more than three hours while sheriff’s deputies tried to negotiate with the suspect, asking him to surrender peacefully.

But Tate, a longtime Lula resident, lost his life despite authorities’ negotiation attempts.

Once the standoff came to a conclusion, sheriff’s deputies and school officials heaved a sigh of relief.

Higgins said Lula Elementary students "behaved beautifully."

"They’re good to go, they’re fine," Higgins said.

He said there was no sense of panic at the school.

"The staff and teachers are responding extremely well," he said. "They’ve practiced lockdown drills before."

Vicky Chambers, Lula city councilwoman and owner of Around the Corner florist shop in downtown Lula, said she believed authorities handled the standoff properly.

Chambers’ grandson is in first grade at Lula Elementary, but she said she was not afraid for his safety.

"I wasn’t the least bit concerned about him," she said. "I was encouraging other people to not try to get their children at the school, because they’re safer there than anywhere else."

Milton Turner, Lula mayor, praised the sheriff’s department for their timely and appropriate response to the incident.

"They were Johnny on the spot," he said. "They did everything 100 percent right. ... None of our students was ever in danger."

Sargent said the sheriff’s office is treating the situation as an isolated incident.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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