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Cars vandalized in the Cohuttas

  • Michael Hubbard and his German shepherd Emma navigate one of the crossings on the Conasauga River Trail during the same July 13-14 weekend when three cars were broken into at trailheads in the Cohutta Wilderness Area. (Contributed photo)
by Mark Millican

When Michael Hubbard and his wife, Cynthia, met a backpacker who asked them if they owned a Honda back at the trailhead, they feared the worst.

“As we were coming out we passed some folks and a fellow said, ‘Hey, is that y’all’s Honda out there (at the parking area)?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I know when somebody asks me that, it’s not good,” said Michael. “He told us what happened and said he parked right next to us, but that our window was broken.”

The Hubbards, of Sandy Springs, had spent the night of the July 13-14 weekend on the Conasauga River Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness Area, a daunting hike that crosses the tributary 18 times on the way to Jacks River Falls and the popular Beech Bottoms area.

“We didn’t go as far as Beech Bottoms, we just went about three miles and found a nice spot to camp by the river,” said Hubbard. “Our main purpose was to test out some of our equipment to see if it was still OK since we’ve got a big trip coming up. It was wet and buggy, but we enjoyed our time there. It’s such a beautiful place.”

The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office worked two break-ins on Sunday at the Betty Gap parking area that accesses the river trail, and the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office worked another break-in on the Epworth side of the Cohutta wilderness on the same day.

Window smashed, battery stolen

Hubbard, who said he and Cynthia both work in the information technology field, noted there were eight or nine cars in the trailhead at Betty Gap on Saturday as they prepared to pack in. They had come through Ellijay in case they needed last-minute items and accessed the wilderness area from Highway 52 West.

“We came out of the woods and I see this Honda, and I see the windows smashed in, and I say, ‘That’s not my car — that’s a different Honda!’” Hubbard recalled. “It sounds bad, but I was hopeful for a minute. Then I looked down the parking lot because we had to park at the far end and ours was in the same state.”

Both cars had the driver’s windows smashed and each had the hoods slightly raised, he said. He also heard another car at a different trailhead had been vandalized overnight.

“Come to figure out, they had popped the hoods and cut the cables and took the batteries out,” Hubbard reported, adding that a Gilmer sheriff’s office deputy and detective arrived to investigate.

“The deputy gave me the impression — the way the interior was torn up — that they were likely looking for hidden firearms,” Hubbard said. “That was his guess. He said they had seen it before, but didn’t seem to indicate there was a rash (of break-ins) lately. They sent a detective and he made an attempt to find some prints. He said they’d check around some local pawn shops. I was impressed — that’s more than I’d expect around Atlanta.”

Hubbard said missing items included his vehicle registration, CDs, a checkbook, cell phone charger and Cindy’s work credentials, among other items.

“We are lucky to have had vandalism insurance ... but I think the (damage) total will be quite high,” he said.  “When smashing the window, they dented the door and I’m not sure what all repairs are being done for what was ripped out under the steering column.”

Local business complimented

But Hubbard said what “really turned their day around” was their treatment by a Gilmer County business, Georgia Mountain Towing.

“They gave us cold drinks and snacks, dog food — and even called every car rental agency they could to try and find one open,” Hubbard said. “They even showed a sense of embarrassment that such a thing had happened in their community.”

He said the wrecker business also supplied power steering fluid to their son’s car when he came to Ellijay to pick them up. Hubbard was asked if the wilderness crime incident would dampen their enthusiasm for adventures in the local mountains.

“It certainly does not dampen it for coming to the outdoors, but it’s going to make me think a little bit harder about leaving my car at such a remote place,” he replied. “I don’t know of a way to overcome it if I want to go into the Cohutta Wilderness.” 

Hubbard said the next time he may put a visible note inside his vehicle saying there are no weapons or other valuables inside the car.

‘Had an incident up there before’

Detective Mark Patrick of the Gilmer sheriff’s office said he was working the case that involved the Honda CRV and a Honda Fit that were broken into at Betty Gap.

“We’ve had an incident up there before,” he said. “We’re trying to follow some leads on what we got as of information on what was taken and things like that. It’s an ongoing investigation.”

In a similar case on Sunday, July 14, a Fannin sheriff’s office incident report noted $4,400 in items taken and damages to a 2006 Toyota Tundra pickup parked in the Cohutta Wilderness on the Epworth side of the mountain range.

Patrick said he was working with Fannin officers on the cases. Anyone with information about the break-ins can call Patrick at (706) 635-4646. 
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