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Monday May 4th, 2015 7:11PM

Investigator suffers chemical burns investigating burglary

By Rob Moore Reporter
HELEN - Helen Police Department Investigator Ricky Gunter is being treated for chemical burns to his hands suffered during a burglary investigation at a Helen nightclub Monday morning.

Helen Police Chief Jim Couch said one of the owners of Club Escape called police to report that someone at the establishment notified him the facility had been vandalized.

"One of his employees, or one of the people here at the restaurant, said that someone had broken in and trashed the place," Couch said. "I sent the investigator down here. The owner said he'd be here from Cleveland in about 10 minutes."

Gunter responded to the scene and began to investigate.

"Our investigator got on the scene, started doing the investigation here, and was injured on the scene here and is being treated at the hospital," Couch said.

Couch said fire personnel from Helen and White County were requested and subsequently responded.

"We've called in the state fire marshal into this investigation," Couch said. "I've contacted the GBI - they're not in on the investigation at this point. We're just keeping them abreast of it. And the sheriff has been contacted, also."

Couch said both the GBI and White County Sheriff Neal Walden's office offered any assistance needed.

"I can tell you there's extensive damage to the interior of the building, particularly items in the building," Couch said. "There was a chemical that was placed all inside the building.

Couch said officials believe muriatic acid was involved. They located containers for at least two gallons of the chemical.

"Fortunately, the building is concrete, so there won't be a lot of drainage issues right now," Couch said. "We're just going forward with the investigation - at this point as a burglary."

Couch said it didn't appear anything was stolen in the burglary incident, which he estimated could have taken three to four hours to perpetrate.

"I mean they've taken swords and gone through computers in there and everything," Couch said. "One of the owners had swords in there in his office. He's big into Nazi German stuff and he had a bunch of swords in there."

Couch said cables to the club's surveillance cameras were cut, but other surveillance cameras around town are being reviewed.

Couch said the officers who worked Sunday night observed nothing out of the ordinary.

Businesses located downstairs on the street level and in the basement of the building that houses Club Escape were evacuated and closed for about four hours. In addition, some businesses at The Castle Inn, including The Troll Tavern, closed voluntarily, Couch said.

Most of those businesses reopened after lunch Monday.

No update on Gunter's condition is immediately available.

The 2013 Helen Oktoberfest celebration wrapped up over the weekend.

One of owners of Club Escape, Mark Turner, had an encounter with Helen police officers over the weekend.

"I will tell you this, because it's public record, one of the business co-owners was arrested by the city of Helen Saturday night," Couch said. "He was arrested for disorderly conduct - disorderly toward an officer on our department - and so he was taken into custody."

Turner, whose interest in the nightclub is for sale according to a flyer in the shadowbox out front, was released on bond from Saturday night's arrest.

"Supposedly, this co-owner was staying in there and saw this this morning - he was upstairs," Couch said. "He's the one that found it."
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