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Officials: Arrest shows value of crime watch
Flowery Branch residents called in suspicious man in subdivision
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To learn more about Neighborhood Watch or crime prevention programs, contact Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office at 770-533-7674.

Something just looked off one night in Country Walk.

A resident of the subdivision near Flowery Branch noticed a man who didn't belong in the usual weekday landscape around 8:30 p.m. on March 23.

The man appeared to be going door to door and looking in windows, witnesses would later tell Hall County sheriff's deputies.

He did not make eye contact or wave to anyone walking the streets, other than to ask one person if he could "use their bathroom," resident Larry Lynn said.

"It was totally out of character," added Lynn, who coordinates the Neighborhood Watch program at Country Walk.

More questions followed when the man, later identified by deputies as Jonathan Blake Etheridge, 26, was spotted leaving a home on the 4800 block of Countryside Drive, Lynn said.

Through networking with one another, neighbors quickly learned one of the homes the stranger was seen at belonged to a couple who was at the hospital. The pair reported expecting no visitors in their absence.

"At that point the (Sheriff's Office) was called," Lynn said.

Investigators arrived in time to arrest Etheridge on site. He was located at Country Walk, taken into custody without incident and charged with burglary, deputies said.

Prescription medications and collectable coins reported stolen were found and linked to the man, said Sgt. Kiley Sargent, who is part of the criminal investigations division.

Today, the Sheriff's Office and Country Walk are using the arrest as an example of what can happen when neighbors bind together through a crime watch program.

"The program is founded on the basic principles of communication, observation, and reporting, all of which worked exactly as intended for this neighborhood," said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, who leads Hall County's Crime Prevention Unit. "Good work and congratulations to the residents of Country Walk."

Wilbanks, who also distributes Neighborhood Watch bulletins on crime trends, scams and public safety news, encouraged Lynn to coordinate a watch program at Country Walk after he attended the Sheriff's Office citizen's academy.

Deputies were refocusing their crime prevention efforts at the time in 2009. They viewed Neighborhood Watch as a key tool to fight a rise in property crimes.

Lynn recalls Wilbanks saying, "'If you see something, it doesn't matter if it turns out to be nothing. It is our job to respond.'"

Lynn signed on and rallied neighbors.

Not 100 percent of the residents who live in the 70-80 homes in Country Walk participate, yet.

His appeal them is to observe and be familiar with your immediate neighbors.

That can and did make a difference, he said.

"That's our goal, for each neighbor to know the neighbors around them," Lynn said. "If you just get to know the three or four around you, you'll observe the patterns and you'll know when something is off. It works if everyone will learn the neighbors. It will pay off in so many ways."