COVINGTON - A 54-year-old man shot and killed his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself in northwest Newton County on Tuesday night about 8:15, according to Lt. Bill Watterson of the Newton County Sheriff's Office.
Rick Breedlove survived a gunshot to his face from a .357 Magnum handgun. He was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center from the house he is believed to have shared with the dead woman at 25 Hickory Hill Drive, Oxford, where the shooting took place.
Dead from a gunshot wound to the head is Pam Spencer, 49, who had apparently been in a relationship with Breedlove for approximately two years, Watterson said.
Though still hospitalized, Watterson said the suspect is expected to live.
"As of right now, it is being ruled a murder/suicide attempt. Breedlove is in custody, though formal charges have not been brought at this point, but we do expect them to be brought against him soon," Watterson said.
Watterson said deputies were alerted by 911 dispatchers that a call had originated from the house and the line was open.
He said investigators believe Breedlove and Spencer were involved in an argument.
"We think it began in the house and was then carried outside to the deck," he said.
"We received a 911 call from the house, but we do not know who dialed the phone. There was no voice contact from the 911 call, but we knew it had risen to the level of gunshots," Watterson said.
Deputies found Spencer face down and Breedlove on his left side, lying on the back deck, according to an NCSO incident report. A silver revolver was on the floor "in the immediate area of the male," the report said.
Watterson said this latest incident marks the 14th violent death, with suspects being charged either with murder or involuntary manslaughter, that has occurred in the county since September 2006. Ten of those deaths were due to gunshot wounds.
"Right here in our little community of 100,000 people," Watterson said, adding that the numbers of violent deaths are unprecedented and are taxing law enforcement.
"We're waiting on this cycle to stop. We still have November and December to go this year, and these were big months for homicides last year."
He pointed out that in Newton County there were two homicides reported in 2004; only one in 2005; four homicides occurred in the county in 2006; and to date there have been 10 in 2007. There are currently 21 people at the Newton County Detention Center charged with murder.
"We've got some really high numbers here. There's no obvious contributing factors," he said, although he noted that domestic violence was a factor in just under half of the 14 most recent deaths, with drugs coming in second.
"Domestic violence is the best kept secret in America. Nobody ever wants to report it. People know it's going on. It's amazing how many people come forward and say, "I knew they were having trouble,'" Watterson said.
He said he couldn't say growth is a factor in the increasing homicide rate as the perpetrators were not generally newcomers. The majority of the murders were committed by people who have lived in this area most of their lives.
Watterson said 13 of the 14 homicides have been solved - the only outstanding case being the dismembered body that was found near Ga. Highway 212. That case, he said, was especially bothersome.
"We've all taken it home with us and thought about it - woke up in the middle of the night thinking, "What else can we do? How can we identify this girl?' We're going everywhere and doing everything we can," he said.
Watterson praised his co-workers for having made arrests in the 13 other cases.
"We've had a lot of success and that's attributed to the investigative team here, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Coroner's Office and other law enforcement officers. And, the public has also given us assistance on these cases," he said.
He admitted, however, to a certain level of frustration as his office has watched the homicide rate climb.
"It's very disheartening to see this type of activity and this many cases going on in our community," he said. "We've invested our careers here. We're trying to make a difference. Most of the stress we feel is in trying to catch who did these murders. We take that home. We take it personally."
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.