A cacophonous boom shattered the calm night air of Jan. 29 at the Downs’ home on Deerfield Drive, startling Heather Downs from the shower and shocking her husband and two children from their television viewing in a nearby bedroom.
Downs at first thought it was some kind of explosion from down the road at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, but the source of the calamity proved to be much closer to home.
Glynn County Police allege that Hank Jason Pelkey drove a 2010 Crown Victoria across the front yard and into the side of the Downs’ home, located in the 200 block of Deerfield Drive, according to a police report. The crash occurred around 10 p.m., the report said.
“My husband was with the kids in our bedroom watching a movie, and I was actually in the shower,” Downs said Tuesday. “The next thing I know I heard what sounded like a bomb had gone off. I didn’t know if FLETC had been bombed. But my husband looked out the window and saw the guy’s car was inside the playroom, just one room over.”
Police arrested Pelkey, 45, and charged him with DUI and failure to maintain a lane. He was taken to the Glynn County Detention Center, where he was released the next day on a total of $1,690 bond, according to jail records.
The vehicle crashed through the front of the house in the playroom for the Downs’ children, a 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, Downs said. A week after the crash, deep tire tracks remained, running from the side of Deerfield Drive, through a ditch and across the Downs’ front yard to the point of impact on the east end of the home’s front. A large sheet of plastic covered the gaping hole.
After the crash, Pelkey allegedly backed out of the home as Gary Downs called police from inside. When police arrived, the vehicle was stuck in the ditch in front of the home with “the back tires spinning ... as if the driver was attempting to to back out of the the ditch,” officer Matt Dixon wrote in his report.
The damage was extensive, Dixon noted. “From where I was standing I could see part of the front wall of (the home) was missing, leaving a large hole in what appeared to be the living room,” Dixon reported. “A large piece of the wall that was missing from the house was still lying on the hood of Pelkey’s vehicle.”
Dixon said Pelkey smelled of alcohol when he approached him. When asked how much he had to drink, Pelkey allegedly answered, “Too much,” the report said. The officer said Pelkey cried during the interview and said, “I’m sorry,” and, “It’s my fault.” Pelkey lives on Buck Trace in the Deerfield neighborhood, according to jail records.
According to Glynn County court records, Pelkey pleaded guilty after a DUI arrest in May of 2000.
Downs said the home is insured for the damage. Inside the playroom, Down’s antique Kirkman piano was “crushed” during the crash.
A week later, however, she was just thankful that her family escaped unharmed.
“This really could have taken out my whole family,” she said.
Sadly, another alleged DUI incident did end in tragedy earlier this week. Police say a 21-year-old woman struck and killed a teenage boy late Sunday night while driving away from a party in the Lakes subdivision off of U.S. Highway 82. Police say Jacob Butts, 15, a Glynn Academy student, was found dead around dawn the next morning on Lakes Drive near Baumgardner Road.
County police and Georgia State Patrol troopers have charged Madisyn Culpepper with first degree vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a deadly accident in connection with the teen’s death. Police and state troopers say that moments after striking Butts on Lakes Drive, Culpepper drove through the stop sign at Baumgardner Road and U.S. 82 and collided with a vehicle that was turning onto Baumgardner Road from U.S. 82.
She was arrested in connection with that crash late Sunday night and charged with DUI, running a stop sign and making an improper turn. Butts’ body was not discovered on Lakes Drive until 6:45 a.m. Monday, according to reports.
Culpepper remained Tuesday in the county jail, held without bond on the vehicular homicide charge, according to the sheriff’s office.
Culpepper and Pelkey were among 11 people arrested for DUI in Glynn County within the past week, according to county jail records. Among those was a 30-year-old woman who allegedly passed out after backing into a car on Robarts Road, all while her young child was in the backseat. Police turned the child over to a grandmother and took the woman to jail for DUI/Drugs and DUI/Alcohol, according to jail records.
“The poor decision that someone makes to drive while impaired will not only negatively affect their own lives, but the lives of others,” said Brian Scott, chief of staff of the Glynn County Police Department. “As we saw Sunday night, the consequences can be tragic. There’s Uber and Lyft, which can be added as an app to your phone. You can call a taxi from anywhere. With technology the way it is nowadays, people don’t have any excuse to drive drunk. People simply do not need to get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.”
A lawsuit alleging the county had improperly approved a zoning amendment and violated the public’s due process rights was dismissed from Glynn County Superior Court on Friday.
The case, filed in August 2018, claimed the county had violated its own zoning ordinance and Georgia zoning law when it approved a zoning ordinance amendment in May.
The amendment instituted new rules for beach renourishment and allowed the county’s Community Development Department to issue a letter of approval for the Sea Island Co.’s beach renourishment project — a necessary step in getting approval from the state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Plaintiffs David Kyler, Frances Zwenig and the Center for a Sustainable Coast alleged the county had not given the public enough of an opportunity to provide input on the amendments, in effect violating its due process rights.
The lawsuit also alleged the county showed favoritism to the Sea Island Co. in approving the amendment, as it fit a need only it had.
Kyler, Zwenig and the center sought to have the county’s decision to approve the amendment declared invalid and to have the Sea Island Co.’s letter of approval revoked, among other things.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane handed down his decision Friday, dismissing the case on the grounds that the center, Kyler and Zwenig filed the case outside of the 30-day window in which zoning decisions can be challenged, failed to prove they had standing in the case and failed to prove the county had violated state or local zoning rules.
Kyler said Tuesday the center’s legal counsel believed the ruling to be in error.
“Apparently (Lane) misunderstood the basis of our case,” said Kyler, director of the center. “There’s an important distinction between a violation of procedure in relation to an ordinance and a similar violation for a zoning decision affecting a single property.”
Before approving an ordinance amendment, the Mainland and Islands planning commissions must review the amendment and make a recommendation to the county commission. Both planning commissions and the county commission must also hold public hearings before making their decisions, according to county ordinance.
The county published notices of the public hearings 30 days in advance in both cases, but a final draft wasn’t released until the day before the planning commissions’ meeting and the day of the county commission meeting.
While earlier drafts were available, Kyler, Zwenig and the center contended that the public would need a final draft to be able to offer meaningful input at both public hearings.
“Because of the unavailability of the content of the amendment until the day of the decision, it completely breaches the concept of due process or public hearing,” Kyler said.
Due to the alleged misunderstanding, Lane applied the wrong case law and came to the wrong conclusion, Kyler said.
“By not allowing enough time for the public to have the bulk of the content, it stunted the public’s input into the decision-making process,” Kyler said. “It expresses a disregard and disrespect of public participation in the process.”
Lane’s decision, however, states that Glynn County adhered to the letter of state zoning law and the county’s zoning ordinance.
“The court finds that there is no requirement that a proposed amendment be drafted and finalized prior to the publication of the hearing notice or prior to the hearing itself; however, a version of the amendment was made available for public review prior to both meetings which gave the public the knowledge of the proposed changes to section 727 (of the county zoning ordinance) and the ability to present meaningful comments on the amendments,” Lane’s ruling states.
Lane also disagreed that the 30-day time limit to appeal the decision didn’t apply, as he didn’t see any reason not to consider the lawsuit a challenge to a zoning action.
“The (original lawsuit) was filed Aug. 15, 2018, in which plaintiffs’ challenge the legality of Glynn County’s decision to amend the text of section 727. The court finds that this action is a challenge to a zoning decision and plaintiffs cannot circumnavigate the time allowed by law by simply claiming it is a due process challenge and filing a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief,” according to the ruling.
Kyler said the center’s board had not decided whether to appeal Lane’s ruling as of Tuesday, but that it would do so within the week.
“Our board hasn’t arrived at a formal decision, pending review of our counsel’s legal opinion,” Kyler said.
The first part of the Kings Bay munitions theft prosecution began to draw to a close Tuesday after three former Marines pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to their roles in the conspiracy.
Robert Hodge, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Camp Pendleton, Calif., testified that in January of 2018, the agency became aware that a Colorado man was in possession of stolen Navy explosives and other materials. Agents with the NCIS and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives encountered Kyle Preston Clasby at his Pueblo West residence.
Clasby previously served, between 2010 and 2014, as a Marine at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. Upon returning to Colorado following a discharge from military service, he carried with him a number of items stolen from the base armory. Hodge said investigators found four blocks of C4 explosive, eight 40 mm grenades and other munitions and equipment.
Clasby admitted to the investigators that he obtained the items at Kings Bay and transported them from there. He also provided information as to other people involved in the conspiracy.
Caleb James Anderson was the Kings Bay ammunition chief at the most active time of the conspiracy. NCIS Special Agent Thomas Kenney said Anderson altered paperwork to account for small arms ammunition and explosives taken from the armory. That included 50 pounds of C2 explosive, along with C4, gun parts, gas masks and other gear. Kenney said it was stolen for personal gain and personal use.
The items were buried at different times at the “shoot house” on base and at co-defendant Sean Patrick Reardon’s property in St. Marys.
For his part, Reardon admitted to discovering about the investigation while it was ongoing, taking two crates of the stolen munitions in February 2018 and dumping them into the Satilla River, where Kenney said they were later recovered.
All three men pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum prison term of five years and a maximum three years’ supervised release.
As all three were on pretrial release and, according to federal probation officials, abided by all their conditions, so the court allowed them to remain on release until their sentencing date, which is to be determined.