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Ellijay, GA
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James Michael Stafford, 49, (shown here) of the residence where the shootings occurred, is still being sought by authorities. He is 5-foot-7, weighs 165 pounds, has red hair, blue eyes and some facial hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a dark T-shirt with a design on the front. Anyone spotting him can call 911 or the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 635-4162.
This residence at 573 Simmons Drive in the Cartecay community was the scene of a drug-related shooting on Sunday morning, Feb. 10. Three people were wounded, one still in serious condition, authorities said. (Photo by Mark Millican)
by Mark Millican

The tranquility of a  Cartecay neighborhood was shattered Sunday morning when multiple shots rang out leaving three people wounded and alarmed neighbors calling 911.

Authorities said the shooting spree was drug-related.

When Jessica Roberts heard the gunfire, she  immediately knew it wasn’t her father out shooting his rifle.

“It happened suddenly, 10 or 15 shots,” she said Tuesday. “My mom ran up to my house and said, ‘They’re shooting each other!’ I told her to get in the house and then I saw a guy running up the road carrying a gun.”

Roberts said the man who lived across the country road from her, James Michael Stafford, was following the man in his car, driving fast. She said she called 911 and reported, “people are shooting each other.”

The Feb. 10 shooting is alleged to have taken place to “collect a debt” in a drug deal, authorities said. The melee left three people with gunshot wounds and led to a search by law enforcement agencies for Stafford, 49, the owner of the property at 573 Simmons Drive who took the woman who was living with him — who was one of the wounded — to the hospital, and then fled on foot.

Stafford had still not been found late Tuesday, and is not believed to be armed.

Sheriff’s office deputies responded to the call of multiple people being shot around 11:30 a.m., according to a news release. Deputies found Ricky Silvers and Ben Forrest, both with gunshot wounds to the head. Riding with them to the residence to collect the money from Stafford, said Capt. Frank Copeland, were Lloyd Silvers, 46, of 150 Benny Bennett Road in Chatsworth (the brother of Ricky Silvers), and Dennis Kermit Gravely, 48, of 167 Toccoa Valley Drive in Blue Ridge.

Addresses for Ricky Silvers and Ben Forrest were not available since they have not been arrested.
Gravely has been charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault. Lloyd Silvers has been charged with two felony aggravated assault counts and a parole violation. Warrants will be executed on Forrest and Ricky Silvers for aggravated assault when they are well enough to leave the hospital, Copeland said. Lloyd Silvers has three past drug charges in Whitfield County Superior Court, and received a five-year prison sentence in 2006 on one of them, records show.

“(Stafford) was shooting at the four people, and three or four of the people that showed up were shooting at them while they were in the house,” he said of Stafford and the woman. 

Around noon the sheriff’s office received a call from North Georgia Medical Center that a female shooting victim had been brought to the hospital by a man who then left on foot. Authorities identified the man as Stafford, but were not naming the woman.

Copeland said Tuesday the GBI was managing the crime scene and he could not say if drugs were found at the residence. Agent Dustin Hamby of the GBI said late Tuesday he did not want to release any information regarding evidence found at the home, including if drugs were found.

Silvers and Forrest were taken by air ambulance to Atlanta Medical Center, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said Sunday.  Spokeswoman Nicole Justin of Atlanta Medical Center said on Monday Silvers was not a patient at the hospital and that Forrest was in critical condition. Copeland said Ricky Silvers was in ICU but was not as seriously injured as Forrest. 

The woman was shot in the leg, he added, and the wound did not appear life-threatening.

Nicholson said Stafford left the BMW he was driving in the hospital parking lot. The BMW and the van the four men arrived in have been impounded for evidence, Copeland said.

A search for Stafford near the hospital and around Ellijay and East Ellijay in a pouring rain proved fruitless Sunday afternoon, and was scaled back around nightfall. 

Nicholson said his officers were familiar with Stafford. Roberts said her neighborhood was mostly quiet, but there had been “disturbances” across the road before and she had seen deputies come to the residence.

Involved in the search were local sheriff’s office deputies, city police officers from Ellijay and East Ellijay, Fannin County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Georgia State Patrol officers and probation officers from the Department of Corrections. Gilmer detectives and agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigated the shooting.

Copeland was asked Monday if charges would be filed against Stafford.

“I can’t say if we’re 100 percent sure he’ll be charged,” he replied. 

Stafford is a convicted felon who spent time in prison after an arrest in 2003 for manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, according to a jail spokesman. He has had probation violations in February and May of 2011, and last November.

Copeland added the GBI is working the case and could bring charges against Stafford. He believes Stafford will “turn up eventually, we just kinda scaled back (the search for him).” But he added officers have not stopped searching.

He was asked if the woman will be charged.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “About the only thing she did initially (was) misrepresenting the truth a little bit, but she changed pretty quick early on in the investigation and started being forthcoming with what actually happened up there.” 

Copeland said an officer is on duty at Atlanta Medical Center.

“We’ve got a deputy down there that’s sitting with Silvers,” he said. “As soon as he can be released, we’re going to be bringing him back to the jail. There’s a warrant for him. It hasn’t been executed yet, but we have somebody sitting there waiting for the time that he can be arrested. We don’t want to lose him.”

Gravely and Lloyd Silvers remain in the county jail and have not had bonds set, the spokesman said.

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