Police from Morrow and McDonough arrested a McDonough man Thursday night on several charges, alleging that he was the driver of a 2008 Cadillac Escalade that hit a vehicle driven by Morrow Mayor-elect Joseph "J.B." Burke in a hit-and-run accident last month.
Morrow Police Sgt. Harry Hess, who had been working the case, said he went with McDonough Police officers, who took Reginald D. Dunson, 42, into custody at approximately 9 p.m., Thursday. Hess said Dunson was taken into custody "without incident." He added that the suspect was being kept in the Henry County Jail until he could be transferred to the Clayton County Jail, by Clayton County Sheriff's deputies.
The accident left Burke, 62, who won Morrow's mayoral election this week by a single vote, in Grady Memorial Hospital for nearly a month, with much of that time being spent in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, as he recovered from his injuries.
"We have made an arrest, and — in a nutshell — we arrested the registered owner of the vehicle," Hess told the Clayton News Daily late Thursday night. "Through witness statements, and videos that we obtained, we were definitely able to show his vehicle was not stolen [as initially reported], and he was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident."
Hess said Dunson faces two counts of felony serious injury by a motor vehicle, one count of felony hit and run, one count of reckless driving, one count of a stop sign violation, and one count of failure to use due care when operating a cellular device.
The police sergeant added that Morrow police were able to identify Dunson as a suspect, and arrest him, in part because of cooperation between units within the police department, and — on a broader scale —among the Morrow, Fulton County and McDonough police departments.
"Really, this is a perfect example of multiple units within the same department working together for the good of the community, because I had assistance from our criminal investigation division in investigating this accident," Hess said. "This is also a perfect example of multiple [law enforcement] departments working together for the greater good. I was able to solve this case with help from multiple people."
Burke was driving his 2006 Toyota Scion on Morrow Road, in Morrow, on Oct. 16, when it was hit by Dunson's Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade had run a stop sign on Clearbrook Drive, where it intersects with Morrow Road, according to police.
A witness previously said the driver of the Escalade stopped briefly, opened Burke's car door, looked at the injured Burke, and then left the scene, after the accident occurred. The suspect had left the scene, allegedly on foot, before police arrived.
After the accident, Burke's family members initially told a Clayton News Daily reporter that his injuries included a broken left hand, fractured ribs and a punctured lung. He initially stayed in Grady's Intensive Care Unit for nearly a week.
His family later told the reporter that Burke's doctors discovered, about a week after the accident, after his transfer out of ICU, that he also suffered a ruptured spleen. He was sent back to ICU, and remained there until early last week.
Hess said he had identified Dunson as a person of interest early in his investigation, after he discovered that the McDonough resident had reported his Escalade stolen in Fulton County, on Oct. 17, at approximately 1:30 a.m. — six hours after the accident occurred.
He added that Dunson came to Morrow Police, looking for his car, the day after the accident, before it was revealed — through media reports — that the department had the vehicle.
"He said he had left his keys on the table at a restaurant in Fulton County," Hess said. "We were able to determine, through a receipt that he was, indeed, at the restaurant, but that he left at 7:15 p.m., which gave him plenty of time to get back to Morrow before the accident occurred."
The investigator said Dunson was cooperating with Morrow police early in the investigation, but the cooperation stopped at some point, while the case was still open.
It was video surveillance footage, the receipt from the restaurant, and Dunson's own cell phone records, which led to him becoming a suspect in the hit-and-run case, according to Hess. The investigator said Dunson's cell phone had been left in the Escalade after the accident, and he was able to receive a search warrant to check the phone's call log.
"I was able to determine that his call log put him, at the time of the accident, on a phone call," Hess said. The investigator declined to say where the video footage came from on Thursday, but earlier in the investigation, he had said he was seeking surveillance footage from a convenience store located near the scene of the accident.
Hess added that he took out warrants for Dunson's arrest on Tuesday, and spent the next two days — in conjunction with Fulton County and McDonough police — searching the for the suspect.
Burke said, on Wednesday, he was relieved to hear police had a suspect in the case. He was released that same day from Grady Memorial Hospital, in Atlanta. He explained hours after his release, however, that he still has several more weeks of recovery to go.
"My doctors have told me I have about another three, to four weeks to go in my recovery," he said. Morrow's mayor-elect said he was not sure if would be able to attend the Morrow City Council's Nov. 22 meeting, where city councilman-elect Larry Ferguson is expected to be sworn in to fill the remaining month of the unexpired term of his predecessor, former City Councilman Mason Barfield.
"I'll try," Burke said, when asked about the possibility of him making an appearance at the meeting.
Hess said Fulton County still has an open investigation on Dunson's report that his vehicle was stolen, and that charges may be pending in that jurisdiction. He added that he did not know exactly what charges Dunson could face in Fulton County, but he did not rule out the possibility that filing a false report could be one possible charge.
The Morrow police sergeant said he has given a copy of his case file to investigators in Fulton County.