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Two arrested after multi-county chase ends in McDuffie manhunt

THOMSON - An all-night manhunt last Thursday for a drug suspect, who earlier led authorities on a four-county high-speed chase, ended with his capture early the following morning in Warren County.

McDuffie County Sheriff's Department Maj. Ronnie Williamson said the manhunt for Lonzell Antonio Vereen, 24, of Stockbridge, Ga., ended at 6:20 a.m. Friday with his capture in a wooded area near the Camak exit of I-20.

McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall said Mr. Vereen is wanted by four different counties in South Carolina on unspecified criminal charges.

"It's our understanding that he is out of jail on $100,000 from South Carolina," Sheriff Marshall told The McDuffie Mirror on Tuesday. "They called us on Monday, asking that we place a hold on him for them."

Mr. Vereen was captured by a team of bloodhounds from the Georgia Department of Corrections after eluding local and state authorities in an intensified manhunt that began in McDuffie County shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday. Mr. Vereen was taken into custody without incident. He was being held in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson. Deputy Sgt. Mike Hobbs was with the bloodhound unit when the suspect was apprehended.

Those bloodhounds and a team of other tracking dogs from the Columbia County Sheriff's Department tracked Mr. Vereen through thick wooded areas, around I-20 and back towards Three Points and Cedar Rock roads, Sheriff Marshall said.

The manhunt included a daylight search for the suspect by Herbert Craven, a helicopter pilot with the Georgia State Patrol post in Thomson. Once nightfall fell, a special helicopter, equipped with infrared, was brought in from Gainesville to continue the search.

Greene County Sheriff's Department K-9 Sgt. Darrell Powers said he stopped a Lexus at mile marker 134, about 3:45 p.m. last Thursday. He wasn't able to address the driver of the car, because the driver sped off, which began a high-speed pursuit with a host of law enforcement officers, including troopers.

The car later wrecked at mile marker 168 after hitting stop sticks that were deployed by Trooper Sgt. Perry Hobbs. The wreck in McDuffie County prompted a manhunt for both suspects, initially. Trooper First Class Mike Callaway later took the younger suspect into custody while the manhunt continued for the other suspect.

Inside the car, authorities discovered about 8 lbs. of marijuana, valued at about $25,000, Sgt. Powers said. Also seized were two loaded semi-automatic handguns and an undisclosed amount of cash.

Greene County Sheriff Chris Houston said he commended Sheriff Marshall and those involved in the manhunt.

"As far as cooperation, I was not there, but I am confident that we received the very best from law enforcement in McDuffie County," Sheriff Houston said in an e-mail statement to the newspaper. "The fact that there was a manhunt demonstrates hard work and sheer determination. I have the utmost respect for Sheriff Logan Marshall and you are lucky to have him."

During the night, there were a number of sightings of the suspect. In one instance, the wanted man walked up to a residence and asked for a drink of water. He also walked up to a residence off Cedar Rock Road about 9:15 p.m. and asked a woman to drive him to Wal-Mart, according to Sheriff Marshall.

"That woman was real lucky she wasn't hurt," the sheriff added, noting that the suspect reportedly was holding something in his hand at the time. The object was believed to have been a rubber mallet.

Multiple criminal and traffic charges also have been filed against another suspect, Jeremy Vereen, 18, of Marion, S.C., according to Greene County Sheriff Chris Houston. Those charges include: Violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, reckless driving, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and failure to maintain lane.

Charges against Lonzell Vereen, meanwhile, who was believed to have been a passenger in the car, had not been released by the sheriff as of Friday afternoon. In McDuffie County, he was being held on investigative hold for other authorities.

Authorities were not certain if the two men are related since they both have the same last names.

During the chase, an attempt to deploy stop sticks across both eastbound lanes of the interstate highway at the Camak exit failed as the driver of the car swerved to avoid them, nearly striking Trooper First Class Steve Shelton.

The trooper was able to jump out of the way before being hit by the fleeing motorist, said Trooper Robbie Roberson, who was with Trooper Shelton at the time. Trooper Shelton received an arm injury, but continued to assist in the manhunt.

Trooper Robbie Roberson, who was putting out stop sticks at the time with Trooper Shelton, said he thought the car was going to strike his friend.

"I just knew that the fleeing suspect was going to hit Steve," Trooper Roberson said. "He had to jump out of the way to keep from getting hit by the car that was coming at him better than 100 mph."

As a result of that incident, both suspects also have been charged with aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, Sheriff Marshall said.

Web posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007

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