CLARKESVILLE - A Lawrenceville man was released on an $18,720 bond Monday night for charges he faces related to a high-speed chase that ended in a crash in downtown Cornelia Saturday night.
Justin Kenneth Belcher, 18, of Lawrenceville faces a long list of traffic charges after driving his 2004 Nissan 350Z at more than 100 mph as he fled from sheriff's deputies, police officers and the Georgia State Patrol.
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell said Deputy Ty Moss encountered Belcher's vehicle while Moss was attempting to cross Georgia Highway 365 on Hazel Creek Road Saturday night.
When Moss attempted to stop the southbound car, the driver fled down Highway 365 toward Demorest and Cornelia.
At the time, a Demorest police officer was on Highway 365 running radar.
"Demorest clocked him triple digits - didn't say how fast," Terrell said.
The Demorest officer and sheriff's Sgt. Greg Chastain joined the pursuit.
Somewhere in the area of Business Highway 441 (Georgia Highway 385), the fleeing driver turned off his headlights, Terrell said.
"He got off at 441 Bypass," Terrell said. "When he came up to Level Grove, of course he slowed down and changed lanes - and he purposely changed lanes and got in the oncoming traffic."
Terrell said the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Baldwin Police Department were set up on 441 Bypass at Industrial Boulevard and notified the traffic coming.
"There were still a few cars that dodged him," Terrell said. "Of course he'd slowed down, wasn't running as fast."
That's around the time the first collision occurred.
"Evidently the DNR truck tried to stop him and he made contact with the DNR truck there somewhere in that area before Willingham [Avenue]," Terrell said.
The fleeing car turned left onto Willingham Avenue toward Cornelia.
"Every time he'd go around a curve of any significance, he would drift the car around the curve - he'd kick the rear end, drift it around, like in the movies or something," Terrell said.
As the fleeing driver approached the railroad from South Main Street in downtown Cornelia, the driver lost control and "hit the building," Terrell said.
That building was the brick porch of Campbell and Campbell Attorneys at Law.
The car then continued across the railroad and struck another building, the former Lock, Stock & Barrel, Terrell said.
"He was taken into custody," Terrell said. "He wasn't injured and there was no damage to other vehicles."
Charges against Belcher include two counts of failure to maintain lane, two counts of wrong side of road, two counts of reckless driving, operation without lights required by law, damage to department property, failure to obey signs or control devices, passing in no-passing zone, window tint violation, defective tires, failure to report accident, hit and run/failure to stop and render aid, fleeing or attempting to elude police officer, two counts of speeding, and a felony count of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer.
Because of the speeds involved and the way the fleeing driver was operating his vehicle, safety is always a concern in a vehicle pursuit. Terrell and his administrators are reviewing in-car video of the chase.
"I talked to the sergeant, and he said traffic for 9:00 on Saturday evening was just like non-existent really," Terrell said. "Of course we'll be reviewing tapes to make sure that policy was followed. That's part of state accreditation, we have to do that and make sure they follow our policy. If they weren't, we'll take corrective action and we'll make sure that we don't do that."
Terrell said Belcher told officers why he ran.
"He said he ran because he saw the police and he got scared," Terrell said. "He's on probation for a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. He was driving like it was more than that."
Terrell described the 350Z as "a sporty little car."