Oconee County Sheriff's investigators last week obtained warrants charging a 20-year-old Statham man with burglary in the second degree and entering auto in connection with 18 crimes that were committed in the county over the span of about a month.
Investigator Dave Stauffacher says Rod Tyler Thomas also faces similar charges in Walton County, where he is currently incarcerated, and in Barrow County.
Following a burglary in Walton County on Oct. 18, Thomas led officers on a high-speed pursuit through Oconee and into Barrow before crashing and later being taken into custody, Stauffacher said. The following day, Walton investigators contacted the Oconee Sheriff's Office after having found property that they suspected came from thefts in Oconee.
The search warrant served on Thomas' vehicle, which had been towed to Monroe, yielded a flat-screen television, bow and arrow, lap top and other stolen items. In the glove box, a GSP unit with a Malcom Bridge Road address was found. That's when Stauffacher says he suspected there was a good chance of solving the rash of thefts reported in Oconee mid-September through mid-October. The crimes had occurred on Malcom Bridge, Lane Creek, Dials Mill, Hodges Mill, Hog Moutain and Elder roads.
"From his home is Statham he could easily come right through here, right down Lane Creek and into Walton County," Stauffacher reasoned.
When interviewed, Thomas didn't hold back, Stauffacher said.
"He spilled everything to me about Oconee, he spilled everything to Walton -- including about a Gwinnett County officer's house that was burglarized where a duty shotgun was missing," Stauffacher said.
Days later, Thomas rode with detectives who say for almost three hours he pointed out each outbuilding and car he'd entered.
"A lot of times he'd remember exactly what he took," Stauffacher explained, noting Thomas recalled snatching a bicycle on Malcom Bridge Road, then ditching it a few yards away; a pedal was missing. A fingerprint lifted off that bike solidified evidence, according to Stauffacher, and it was a detail that hadn't been made public.
Thomas even revealed his mode of operation, saying he'd park far away, steal items and then stage them by the trees in order to return with his vehicle to pick them up, Stauffacher said.
Gas cans a signature
In the yard behind Thomas' Statham residence, authorities recovered more power tools and GPS units. Gas cans were Thomas' signature, and he'd use them to fuel his car, said Stauffacher.
"It's an odd thing to steal because they're heavy and bulky," he said.
Most of the recovered items have been returned to their owners, but none of the guns that were taken have been found, Stauffacher said. Authorities are working to track them and believe they have solid leads, he said.
In all, Thomas has been linked to 35 cases -- 18 in Oconee, nine in Walton, and eight in Barrow -- and he claims he acted alone, according to Stauffacher.