IN WHAT police call a gang-related incident, a drive-by shooting in City Market turned into a deadly car chase which claimed the lives of three people in the early morning of July 5.
The driver of the vehicle, Jerry Chambers, 17, has been charged with three counts of murder and has become the center of an intense debate about crime and punishment in Savannah.
At about 12:13 a.m., a white SUV was traveling north on Jefferson Street, near the intersection with West St. Julian Street, and pulled alongside a group of people. At least one occupant of the SUV began firing at the pedestrians.
Three people were shot. James Armanie-Brazelton, 23, and a 16-year-old male sustained injuries from this shooting. April Dixon, 22, later arrived at the hospital with injuries from the shooting.
The 16-year-old male was critically injured. Armanie-Brazelton and Dixon suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
After a description of the perpetrator’s vehicle was broadcast, officers located it near Sustainable Fellwood and a chase ensued. The vehicle, traveling at a high rate of speed, crashed on West Bay Street near the intersection of Barnard Street.
The vehicle struck six pedestrians when it crashed. Scott Waldrup, 30, died at the scene. The remaining five pedestrians suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Gabriel Magulias, 20, and Spencer Stuckey, 17, who were passengers in the vehicle, also died at the scene.
Police say Chambers was a member of a gang called Only the Mob (OTM).
Chief of Police Joseph H. Lumpkin, Sr. expressed his condolences to Waldrup’s family and the community. “He was an innocent victim,” Chief Lumpkin said at a 3 p.m. news conference.
He also expressed condolences for the loss of Stuckey and Magulias.
“Although they were participants in risky behavior and violent crimes, they were human beings,” Chief Lumpkin said. “They are prime examples of what we’ve been saying in this community. If those individuals don’t stop that behavior, they are going to be dead or in jail in five years.”
A second shooting happened a few minutes later, after the initial shooting, in the area of Jefferson Street and Broughton Street. Police responded to the shots and found Travis Kimble, 17, suffering from non-life-threatening injuries. “Presently, Kimble has not been cooperative with police,” a police spokesperson says.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach, at a press conference soon after the incident, sounded both a defiant and defensive tone.
“We know we have a gang problem but we cannot base police policy on emotions,” DeLoach said. “This is not a time ... to say I told you so.”
At the regular City Council meeting a few days later, DeLoach said something similar:
“We will stay focused on our long range plan for public safety. We can’t change plans based on emotions. We will stick with the strategic plan,” in coordination with Chief Lumpkin, DeLoach said at the beginning of the meeting, which had an overflow crowd of concerned citizens who had marched to City Hall from the scene of the tragedy.
Perhaps feeling the same political heat over violent crime that unseated his predecessor Edna Jackson, DeLoach said that SCMPD “has a clearance rate almost 10 percent higher than the national average. Over a 100 gang members have been arrested since January 2016.”
However, actual plans to counter crime—other than the ongoing effort to continue to build up staffing levels of SCMPD officers—were vague.
“We will develop recreation plans to foster mentorship and positive role models,” said DeLoach. “We have to apply programs for decades to make a difference ... and not just on Facebook.”
Several local citizens spoke before Council, including Melissa Swanson, longtime owner of The Rail Pub near City Market.
“Instead of treating businesses as a tax base and always asking us for more money, ask us what we really need” to help fight crime, urged Swanson.
Swanson said Savannah doesn’t need Savannah Serves, a.k.a., the downtown ambassador program, because “everybody has Siri now.”
In the days following the tragedy, there was much discussion over how accused killer Jerry Chambers avoided an armed robbery charge for a 2016 crime in the Savannah Mall parking lot.
In June 2016, a 63-year-old was accosted in the parking lot, and shot and seriously injured when she resisted. Chambers soon turned himself in to police.
Three weeks later, the charges against Chambers—then 16 and a juvenile offender under the law —were all dismissed and he was free to go.
While the Chatham County courts website says the presiding judge who dismissed the charges against Chambers was Recorders Court Judge Harris Odell—who had previously come under fire from Chief Lumpkin for being soft on violent offenders—more details came out which made the story more complicated.
Juvenile Court Judge Tom Cole is who dismissed the charges against Chambers, and he did so primarily because the case against Chambers had flaws.
In interviews, current District Attorney Meg Heap said there wasn’t enough sound evidence to support an armed robbery charge, so the charges against Chambers were downgraded to attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault.
Other issues with the case included the victim being unable to identify the perpetrator, and police neglecting to inform Chambers of his rights after the arrest.