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Ellijay, GA
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Fugitive James Michael Stafford is led into the jail by Deputies Kirk Champion (holding him) and Chris Couch. At right is Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. (GCSO photo
Sgt. Greg McClure (Daisy’s handler) of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office and Detective Jeff Shelton were responsible for capturing James Michael Stafford after the K-9 led them to him. Stafford had broken into an unoccupied home at 1338 Pleasant Hill Road and was captured a mile away in the woods. At left is Deputy Bo Hughes, who was also involved in the search. (GCSO Photo)
Fugitive captured in Pleasant Hill area 

by Mark Millican

Hundreds of hours were spent by law enforcement officers over an 11-day period searching for a fugitive involved in a Feb. 10 shooting in Cartecay that authorities said was drug-related and left three people wounded.

But after deputies and detectives finally corralled James Michael Stafford in the Pleasant Hill community, it only took a few minutes for Daisy — a bloodhound member of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office K-9 crew — to sniff him out.

Stafford, 49, was tracked down Feb. 20 in the woods of western Gilmer around a mile from where he had broken into an unoccupied home on the shores of Rainbow Lake. Daisy’s handler, Sgt. Greg McClure, and Detective Jeff Shelton took Stafford into custody, according to a spokeswoman. 

With Stafford looking more haggard at the end of his run than an old booking photo being circulated to identify him, the sheriff’s office and residents of the Pleasant Hill and Pleasant Gap communities where authorities had been searching let out a deep breath they’d been holding. 

At first authorities didn’t think Stafford was armed after the shooting — at least, according to eyewitness reports of people who saw him drop his wounded girlfriend off at North Georgia Medical Center. But then they were unsure after he’d been on the loose for a few days.

Stafford had been sought by a contingent of several agencies after taking Megan Rose Burnell of Ellijay, to the hospital and then fleeing on foot. The couple had been involved in a gunfight with four men who came to Stafford’s home at 573 Simmons Drive to “collect a debt” from a drug deal, Capt. Frank Copeland said. 

Three of the four men who arrived were armed and shooting broke out, he added. A neighbor said she heard between 10 to 15 shots fired.

Stafford is currently charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and probation violation, according to jail records. He may be charged with burglary and possibly other counts as the investigation continues, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said.

Burnell, 26, of 242 Llama Lane was charged Feb. 20 with felony making a false statement. She was released from the hospital after having a leg wound treated.

The four men who came to Stafford’s home were Lloyd Silvers, 46, his brother Ricky Silvers, 56 (both of Murray County), Dennis Gravely, 48, of Blue Ridge, and Ben Forrest of Chatsworth. Ricky Silvers was treated for a head wound and is now in the Gilmer County jail, as are Lloyd Silvers and Gravely. Forrest remains in critical condition with a head wound at Atlanta Medical Center, a spokeswoman said. 

Gravely and Ricky Silvers have each been charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault. Lloyd Silvers has been charged with two felony aggravated assault counts and a parole violation. 

Arrested for hindering authorities

Four Ellijay residents have been arrested for helping Stafford evade authorities. Rose Burnell’s brother, Tanner Burnell, 27, also of 242 Llama Lane, was charged Feb. 17 with hindering the apprehension of a criminal and probation violation. Donald Russell Greer, 41, of 1391 East New Hope Road, was charged with hindering and making false statements. Joyce Lynn Greer, 55, of the same address, and Ronald Burton Greer, 40, of 1345 East New Hope Road, were charged Feb. 20 with making false statements. All the charges are felonies.

Nicholson said the Greers are brothers and that Joyce Greer is married to one of them. Charges against the five men involved in the Feb. 10 shooting could be upgraded if Forrest doesn’t pull through, he added.

“We are still monitoring (Forrest’s) status,” Nicholson said. “It appears he has a bleak outlook for even surviving. If he dies, most of these folks that are charged, those charges are going to change a little bit.”

‘Trying to cover his face’

Mike Smith of Pleasant Hill Road called authorities on Monday, Feb. 18, after he saw a stranger walking along the roadside.

“After the helicopter chase and the dog chase on Sunday night (Feb. 17), about 2 or 3 in the afternoon (Monday) he walked down the street with a jacket over his head,” he said. “It looked like he was trying to cover his face. So he comes walking down the road and I thought he was my neighbor so I started yelling for him to talk to him, and he finally dropped the coat and it wasn’t my neighbor.”

Smith said the man told him he was “visiting friends.”

“He (walked by) the house and I called the police department to see if they’d caught (Stafford) and they said they were still working on it,” he related. “I said, ‘Well, somebody was just walking down the road, tan leather jacket, blue jeans and a blue shirt.’ I thought he was in his 30s, but it turned out he was a lot older.”

Nicholson said he was “absolutely sure” Smith’s sighting was of Stafford. He said hundreds of hours were logged in the search for Stafford and both search dogs — the other one is “Rico” — were used.

Stafford ‘pretty tired’

“We felt like we had him definitely on foot in that area and we found two different locations where we felt like he had spent the night,” said Nicholson. “One was in a camper — it wasn’t within the knowledge of the owner — in fact, the owner confirmed it had been broken into. And then (he stayed in) like an old pump house. When we felt like we had him out there on foot with no vehicle, that’s when we started turning the heat up big time on his friends and associates, and that’s ultimately how we caught him — with a tip from an associate.”

Nicholson confirmed Stafford was “pretty tired” when he was caught in the woods.

“Once Daisy got on track from the house there (at Rainbow Lake), it was probably about 10 or 15 minutes before they had him in custody,” he said.

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