January 8, 2013

Chase ends in arrest for alleged arsonist

Rachel Brown

— Jeffrey Dewayne Land Jr. had been on the run for months, officials said, but after he set fire to a man’s car and called the man threatening more damage, he was arrested on Saturday following a high-speed chase.

Land, 35, had a listed address of 1463 Sane Road in Dalton, but Capt. Rick Swiney with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office said he’s been staying in various locations for several months. According to incident reports, Land led law officers on a chase through parts of Dalton, including the bypass, at speeds of up to 80 mph before he arrived in the Sane Road area where his parents live, took off on foot through a field, fled through the woods and waded into the Conasauga River in an attempt to avoid arrest.

Officers tracked him through the woods and to the river but were unable to tell exactly where he went. Once daylight dawned, they were tipped off to his location and he was found hiding under a bridge on Airport Road, soaked to the waist from having been in the river, according to one report.

“On the way to the jail while Mr. Land was in the back of the patrol car, Mr. Land uttered that he wasn’t guilty of all those charges they have been putting on him; he did run today and was guilty of that,” the report states.

Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said there were warrants for Land for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for an incident in which he hit a man on the head with a gun and threatened him with it in October. Swiney said the sheriff’s office also had warrants on Land for violating parole.

According to incident reports, officials responded to a call about a stolen Dodge Stratus at almost 3 a.m. Saturday only to learn a short while later the vehicle was on fire. It was burned inside and out. A man told police he was receiving texts from Land “telling him he wanted his money or he was going to burn another one of his cars and burn his house down as well,” according to one report, and that he owed Land $200.

According to reports, officers were looking for Land on Sane Road and were told at around 7 a.m. that he had taken his mother’s keys and his stepfather’s GMC Sierra and left their residence. A deputy spotted the vehicle at Ga. Highway 52 and the 52 Connector soon after, and two other patrol cars joined in the chase.

A report states Land ran a red light on Highway 52, turned onto the south bypass and took off on Ridge Road, cutting off at least one car and crossing the centerline several times before he made his way to the area where he eventually got out of the truck and ran.

Diane Hughes said she saw Land’s vehicle take off through her yard on Walker Way around 7 a.m. Saturday with sheriff’s vehicles in pursuit. Hughes said it’s unusual in the rural area to hear emergency vehicles.

“That’s what made me notice it because you never hear sirens out here, ever,” she said. “When we finally went outside, I guess it was about 8:30. He was probably about six feet from our house.”

Land was charged by the sheriff’s office with aggravated assault with a gun, terroristic threats and acts, aggravated assault (other weapon), two counts of theft by taking, first degree arson, probation violation, willful obstruction of law officers, fleeing/attempting to elude a police officer, running a red light and failure to maintain lane.

Swiney said the investigation is ongoing. Land was still in the Whitfield County jail without bond as of Monday afternoon.