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Manhunt nabs four suspects in outlet mall robbery
Suspects in a foiled burglary attempt at a Dawsonville outlet mall abandoned this van after wrecking on Ga. 400 in North Forsyth, according to officials. Four men later were arrested. - photo by Jim Dean

Four suspects in a foiled burglary attempt at a Dawsonville outlet mall were arrested Tuesday morning after an hourslong manhunt in northern Forsyth County.

The four men, whose identities had not been released, were captured over several hours. The last three were apprehended after authorities said they asked for a drink of water at a business near Keith Bridge Road and Dahlonega Highway.

The early morning pursuit and wreck that followed the attempted heist at Saks 5th Avenue in North Georgia Premium Outlets shut down a portion of Ga. 400.

The ensuing manhunt expanded to include helicopters and search dogs from the Georgia State Patrol and Forsyth County, as well as a SWAT team.

Tuesday morning’s incident marks the second time in less than a month that bandits have targeted the retail outlet. In mid-May, more than $10,000 in designer blue jeans were taken in an early morning smash and grab.

Authorities are not saying if the two incidents are connected or if either is related to a rash of similar jean thefts in the Atlanta area since last summer.

Lt. Tony Wooten of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office did say that authorities found a large rock, which they believe was "going to be used to break into the store," in the suspects’ van.

The suspects abandoned the van after wrecking just north of Pilgrim Mill Road.

"These two are definitely similar in nature in that the suspects backed a van up to the front door and had an object in the van that appears to be used for breaking into the store," said Wooten, adding that authorities also found a gun in the van.

Dawson, Forsyth and state authorities set up a command post Tuesday morning at Antioch Baptist Church on Antioch Road, where one suspect was spotted shortly after the wreck.

Deputies with assault rifles guarded the entrances to subdivisions along nearby roads.

The drumming of the state patrol helicopter’s blades could be heard as search dogs rustled through the brush.

Residents who live within walking distance of the church said deputies searching the area told them to go back inside and lock the doors and windows.

Sandy Beaver said she had already heard about the manhunt when she arrived about 7:30 a.m. at The Place of Forsyth, a nonprofit social services organization next to the church on Antioch Road.

Beaver, executive director of The Place, warned employees to make sure their vehicles were secure.

"We have a van and a truck and two sheds," she said. "Somebody had pulled one of the sheds open, but nobody was in there."

Beaver said they would keep the doors to the facility, which includes a thrift store, locked until the suspects were caught.

"We’ll let people in, but we’re locking the doors behind them," she said.

Wooten said the incident began at about 5:20 a.m., when a security guard reported a silver Dodge van backed up to the doors of Saks 5th Avenue Off 5th.

Two Dawson sheriff’s deputies met the suspects as they left the mall. A chase down Ga. 400 followed.

The van wrecked after its tires were blown out by stop sticks, strips of wood with spikes on one side that Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies had put out.

Wooten said a woman was taken into custody at that time. It was later determined, however, that she was not involved in the incident.

Forsyth County sheriff’s Lt. Col. Gene Moss said the first burglary suspect was caught at about 10 a.m. on Whispering Circle, off Antioch Road, and turned over to Dawson authorities.

The other three were arrested about two hours later a short distance away.

Regional staff writer Michele Hester contributed to this report.

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