Investigator: Accused Burglars Said They Needed Rent Money

Three Oconee County men, ages 17-21, are charged in connection with an early morning burglary Wednesday on Ashland Drive. An arrest does not mean a conviction.

A Sheriff's investigator says two of three Oconee County men charged this week in connection with a burglary told him they resorted to crime because they needed money to pay rent.

A deputy on patrol spotted the burglary in progress in the 1300 block of Ashland Drive around 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to Investigator Dave Stauffacher, who's working on the case.

As the patrol deputy approached a woman and a man who were loading rims into the bed of a pickup truck, two other men ran into the woods, he said, and a K-9 unit was brought in for a brief search.

The individuals had apparently entered the house --which appeared recently abandoned, possibly due to a thick, black mold problem-- through unlocked, open windows and removed the items, Stauffacher said.

The house had not been vandalized, but deputies found some alcohol containers and candles in what Stauffacher described as a "party room" upstairs.  He said two of the individuals admitted to having been on the property before, but said this was the first incident where they said they'd taken something.

The rims, valued around $40, had been stored inside the house. Also taken was a broadband modem.

Arrested at the scene was James Wilson Smith, 21, of Garrett Road, Stauffacher said.  Smith is charged with theft by taking, burglary in the 1st degree and possession of tools for the commission of a crime.  He had previously been charged with burglary in Florida, according to Stauffacher.

Later Wednesday deputies arrested 17-year-old Chandler Todd Hammond of McNutt Creek Road at his residence, Stauffacher said.  Hammond is charged with being a party to a 1st degree burglary.

Thursday morning Hunter Ethan Bradley, 18, of Garrett Road, turned himself into the Oconee County Jail on a charge of burglary in the 1st degree, according to Stauffacher.  He added that Bradley has been tied to multiple addresses in northeast Georgia and Texas.

Investigators are considering the possibility that the men could be linked to other recent burglaries or entered autos in the area, but Stauffacher said the modes of operations in the cases appear to be different.

A 21-year-old woman at the scene Wednesday who provided "substantial assistance" in identifying and locating the suspects was not charged, Stauffacher noted.

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