By Curt Yeomans
A 55-year-old Jonesboro man is facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and following too closely, after he allegedly ran into a vehicle driven by Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, on Thursday evening, according to county police.
A 1993 Toyota 4-Runner, allegedly driven by Raleigh Virlyn Burton, ran into the rear end of a "black Ford" in an eastbound lane of Ga. Hwy. 138, near the road's intersection with Ga. Hwy. 85, in Riverdale, at 8:58 p.m., on Thursday, a Clayton County police officer wrote in a warrantless arrest affidavit.
Clayton County police were near the scene of the accident, conducting a road checkpoint to find drunk drivers, as part of the departmemt's "Operation Scrooge" program, said Clayton Police spokesperson, Capt. Tina Daniel. She asdded that sobriety tests showed Burton had allegedly consumed alcohol before the accident, but he was not fleeing from the checkpoint when he hit Bell's car.
"While we were doing one of our Operation Scrooge check points, a guy just ran into the back of Chairman Bell's car," Daniel said.
The affidavit gives only a vague description of the car that was hit, listing it simply as a "black Ford," and the driver of the vehicle is not identified in the affidavit. Daniel confirmed that the "black Ford" is a county-owned vehicle, and Bell was driving it when the accident happened.
The affidavit for Burton's arrest shows he was allegedly driving close to the back of Bell's car in the moments leading up to the accident. "The vehicle [black Ford] was stopping," the affidavit states. "The offender was following the black Ford more closely than is reasonable, having due regard for speed and traffic conditions."
Daniel said Bell was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center, in Riverdale, after the accident, for treatment of minor injuries and to check for whiplash. Bell, she said, was released from the hospital later Thursday evening.
Neither Bell, nor Burton, could be reached for comment on Friday.
There was only minor damage done to the two cars, Daniel said. She said Bell's car has a "small dent" in its rear bumper, and Burton's car has a "small dent" in its front bumper.
According to the affidavit for Burton's arrest, there allegedly was "the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath and body." Daniel said tests run on Burton, both at the scene of the accident, and later at Clayton County police headquarters, showed he allegedly had alcohol in his body.
He blew a .071 on the breathalyzer test at police headquarters, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. That number is just under .08, the so-called "legal limit" in Georgia.
"The offender was determined to be less safe to operate the motor vehicle, and placed into custody," according to the arrest affidavit.
A Clayton County Magistrate Court judge set Burton's bond at $2,500 during a first appearance hearing on Friday morning, according to online court records. The online records also show that Burton is scheduled to appear before Magistrate Judge Bobby Simmons on Jan. 3, for a preliminary hearing.
Friday afternoon, officials at the Clayton County Jail said Burton had already been released from jail.