By Kendal Groner
The two-week long vandalism spree that reportedly occurred in parts of Unicoi County, the Town of Erwin, Washington County and Madison County, North Carolina, came to a halt after five individuals were apprehended on Sunday, Feb. 5.
According to information released by law enforcement officials on Tuesday, Feb. 6, Thomas Blaylock, 19, of Erwin, and four juveniles, two males and two females, are facing charges in Unicoi County that consist of civil rights intimidation, vandalism over $1,000, aggravated burglary and theft of golf clubs, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, vandalism over $4,000, vandalism under $500, over 25 counts of vandalism to mailboxes, and theft of property.
“They just went on a rampage,” said Mike Hensley, Unicoi County sheriff.
The vandalism reportedly included spray painting vehicles, punctured tires, and broken windows and mailboxes. Two churches, Unaka Springs Freewill Baptist Church of Erwin, and Enon Baptist Church of Jonesborough, had swastika symbols as well as inverted crosses spray painted on church vehicles, creating grounds for the charge of civil rights intimidation.
“This was a team effort among all the sheriffs and police department. I want to thank God for helping us with this investigation,” Hensley stated.
The alleged crime spree started in the Town of Erwin near the Linear Trail where bathrooms were vandalized before the individuals reportedly began defacing mailboxes and cars in the town where thefts also occurred. After that, the vandals allegedly moved into the county and vandalized parts of Unicoi County High School, Tipton Street, and a property on Old Asheville Highway before vandalizing property in Madison County, North Carolina, and Washington County.
Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said three vehicles were vandalized in the town and Erwin will have additional charges related to a home burglary where the golf clubs used to vandalize the various properties were allegedly stolen.
“This is a good example of teenagers telling their parents that they’re going to go and spend the night with so and so,” said James “Buddy” Harwood, Madison County sheriff. “I urge parents that if your teenager tells you they are going to spend the night with someone … you might want to make sure they are actually spending the night with the person they said they were.”
A total of 34 mailboxes were damaged from Shelton Laurel to Mars Hill in Madison County, one of which had an improvised explosive device inside. It was confirmed that all of the crimes were connected, and each of the five individuals confessed to all of the crimes, according to law enforcement officials.
Hensley also said that there was no clear motivation for the crimes other than some alcohol consumption and “meanness.” In Washington County the individuals are being charged with three counts of felony vandalism, one count of civil rights intimidation, and one count of misdemeanor vandalism.
They are also facing felony charges for possession of a weapon of mass destruction and will be extradited back to North Carolina after being processed through the State of Tennessee.
“We all worked together great; everybody was just phenomenal,” said Ed Graybeal, Washington County sheriff.
Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull said more charges could be pending, and whether or not the juveniles are tried as adults will depend on the extent of their involvement. The civil rights intimidation charge is a class D felony, punishable by up to 12 years in prison, according to Tennessee Disorderly Conduct Laws.
“All of us here we live in the Bible belt, so when you’re messing with our churches, or what they have, we’re going to come get you and do our very best to put you in jail and make sure we make things right,” Hull said.
Hensley added that it is rare to catch a mailbox suspect, and encouraged anyone that has had damage that has not yet been reported to come forward.
“There is possibly some more suspects, and this is still a fluid investigation among all of the counties,” said Hensley. “I’m sure there are cases out there that haven’t been reported. There were several mailboxes throughout Unicoi, Washington, Madison County and the Town of Erwin with damage done.”
Blaylock will have his first court appearance at the Unicoi County General Sessions Court on Thursday, Feb. 8. Anyone with additional information related to the crimes is encouraged to call the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department at 743-1850.