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Investigators fish for evidence, but catch more than they wanted

Staff Photo: Barbara Knowles
 Members of the Covington/Newton County Dive Team watch from Lake Varner as a not-very-festive Christmas tree is hoisted onto the Flat Rock Road bridge by crane operators. They were searching for evidence in a Habersham County armed robbery case but uncovered quite a bit of debris instead. The tree was weighted down by a cement block and is believed to have been an attempt to lure fish to the area. 

Staff Photo: Barbara Knowles Members of the Covington/Newton County Dive Team watch from Lake Varner as a not-very-festive Christmas tree is hoisted onto the Flat Rock Road bridge by crane operators. They were searching for evidence in a Habersham County armed robbery case but uncovered quite a bit of debris instead. The tree was weighted down by a cement block and is believed to have been an attempt to lure fish to the area. 

COVINGTON — Half the fun of fishing is wondering what you're going to pull up next, and by that standard, staff members with the Newton County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Department were having a ball Tuesday afternoon as they "fished" in Lake Varner. They were not, however, hoping to hook something good to eat. They were searching for evidence and coming up with a lot of miscellaneous debris of dubious origins.

The search began when investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation asked them to look for a particular item in the murky waters beneath the Flat Rock Road Bridge over Lake Varner Reservoir. The item is believed to be connected to the July armed robbery at a Little Caesar's restaurant on U.S. Highway 441 in Cornelia. The suspect in the case, Joseph C. Crawford, 30, was arrested in Newton County on Aug. 3.

Sure enough, with a little help from the multi-agency Covington/Newton County Dive Team, the item was successfully retrieved.

"They did excellent work in finding this evidence under very difficult conditions and our hat is off to them," said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. "The Sheriff's Office also played a key role in the suspect's capture."

But after their initial success, a call came to search for further evidence in the case and that is what investigators and members of the dive team were hoping to accomplish Tuesday afternoon. Instead, they came up with all manner of interesting items, according to Lt. Tyrone Oliver.

Finds included a Pepsi vending machine, several large vehicle body parts, nitrous oxide tanks, a gun and even a Christmas tree weighted down by a cement block.

Oliver said fire department personnel checked the nitrous oxide tanks and they were determined not to be hazardous.

"We're in the process of running the numbers now to determine where they came from, but there was no contamination to the water. They were empty ... and everything was still intact," he said.

The gun is believed to be connected with a Newton County murder case that has already been adjudicated, Oliver said, adding that further investigation into the exact origins of that particular weapon is ongoing.

He said it appeared people are just pulling up to the bridge and throwing debris over the railings. It's not a very heavily traveled road, especially at night, so people apparently feel free to hurl their junk into the lake.

"We do have patrols out here and if anybody is caught, they will be prosecuted," he said.