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Homicides hit all-time high in White County

Most of county’s 5 slayings have been domestic-related

POSTED: September 18, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Five homicides in a year isn't exactly a shocking statistic, but for White County - population 25,000 - it's a record.

"That's an awful high number," said White County Sheriff Neal Walden, whose deputies made an arrest in the county's most recent homicide last week, charging a 45-year-old Cleveland woman in the shooting death of her husband.

"It's kind of hard to explain why we've had such a high number this year. I don't think law enforcement could have done anything different than what we've been doing."
It had been December 2004 since White County's last homicide. The previous high was three in 1996. So far this year, White County, with about 155,000 fewer residents than Hall County, has one more homicide than Hall's four.

Of the five homicides, four - two shootings and two stabbings - have been classified as murders.

The fatal shooting in July of a bank robbery suspect in Helen by authorities with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Lumpkin County Sheriff's officials is classified as a justifiable homicide. The suspect, 44-year-old Danny Ray Queen, pointed a replica handgun at arresting officers and ignored orders to drop it, authorities said.

The January fatal stabbing of 24-year-old Darren Keith Ramey outside the Southside Bar and Grill in Helen was the county's first homicide of the year. Samuel Abernathy, 39, is charged with murder in Ramey's death.

In March, Jonathan Wade Wendt, 31, was stabbed to death in the Cleveland apartment of 20-year-old Luke Haroldson McClure. McClure faces murder charges.

After Queen's shooting death in July, the estranged husband of a White County 911 communications worker allegedly shot her to death in his home near Cleveland. Jonathan Hart, 21, is charged with murder in the July 26 shooting death of Stephanie Haslup Hart, also 21.

And on Sept. 3, deputies responding to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance found 45-year-old Roy Boatright shot in the chest. He later died and his wife, Donna Boatright, was charged with his murder.

"It's been several years without any (murders)," said White County's coroner for the last 20 years, Ricky Barrett. "I guess we were just past due."

Barrett cites the growth in White County's population and the number of domestic violence-related incidents as possible reasons for the spike in homicides.

"There are so many domestics now," said Barrett, who hears officers dispatched to domestic calls over his police radio almost daily. "I'm surprised there aren't more (homicides) than there are."

Helen Police Chief Ted Ray noted that the county's four murders all involved people who knew each other and were not stranger-on-stranger crimes, which are the rarest form of homicide.

"This year has been a rather hectic year for us as far as what all's been happening, but it's not as if it's an unsafe environment," Ray said. "These are very specific, isolated situations. It's just one of those times when it happens."

Walden, the sheriff, pointed to an increase in illegal drug activity and population growth as two possible factors.

"We're living in different times than we were 20 years ago," Walden said. "The times have changed."

White County authorities hope that regular homicide investigations don't become a part of those changing times.

"Unfortunately, we've had our share this year," Walden said. "We're hoping this is the last of that."



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