Trucker says robbers got away with some $30,000 in cash

Charles Oliver/Daily Citizen-News

The owner of Flooring King on Connector 3 said a front window of his store was shattered from gunfire from across the street from a man who was reportedly fending off robbers at the Pilot Travel Center.


Dalton Thornton says it isn't unusual for people to approach him about buying mobile home tires and axles.

"I go around to dealerships and pick up mobile home tires and axles," said the Navarro, Texas, resident.

Thornton said "some set-up guys" will often keep the tires and axles after they set up a home and try to sell them later. So he keeps cash on hand to buy them.

Thornton, 23, said he spent Monday night with his truck parked at the Pilot Travel Center at 243 Connector 3, south of Dalton, planning to pick up some tires at Clayton Homes. He was parked in a large lot behind the travel center. The lot appears to be large enough for several dozen trucks and is surrounded on the other three sides by trees.

Thornton said Tuesday morning around 8, a man knocked on the door of his truck and asked him about selling him some tires and axles. Thornton said he thought the man might have seen his trailer with tires and axles on it.

"I got out of my truck and talked to him," he said. "He takes me to this other guy. At that point, two other guys approach behind me. As I look at them, the guy I was talking to grabs (the money bag he was carrying his cash in, some $30,000), and the other three hold me. I was able to get away from them in time to chase the man with the money to a van. He drove off. That's when I pulled out my pistol."

A Whitfield County Sheriff's Office incident report said Thornton fired all five rounds from a Smith & Wesson .38 Special handgun.

"Mr. Thornton stated that he was aiming at the tires of the vehicle in order to disable it," the report said. The report said Thornton was unsure if he struck the vehicle. Thornton called 911.

The report said a deputy on the scene was approached by an employee of a store across the street, Flooring King. When the deputy went to the store, the employee told him he'd heard a gun shot and the window next to him "bust."

Owner Bruce Terry said Friday he was not there at the time but two employees were. Another employee told the deputy he was inside the building working when he "heard three gun shots and glass break." He "looked around the building and saw the broken glass."

Terry said there were no injuries and no damage except to the window, which he estimated cost $2,000.

On Friday, one of the front windows to the store had spiderweb cracks and what appeared to be a hole near the top.

"Deputies flooded the area in (an) attempt to locate the three other individuals but were unsuccessful," the report said.

Walter Wathen, 52, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was arrested Tuesday after being stopped on I-75 North around mile marker 341, about five miles north of the Rocky Face exit. Thornton's money bag was not found in the vehicle, according to the report. Law enforcement had issued a “be on the lookout” alert for the van, according to a press release from Sheriff Scott Chitwood.

Wathen was scheduled for a bond hearing before Superior Court Judge William Boyett on Friday, but it was continued until Aug. 25. He is charged with forcible purse snatching and driving with a suspended or revoked license.

"The additional three suspects left in a different vehicle from the Pilot Travel Center," said sheriff's office Capt. Paul Woods. Woods said they traveled north on I-75 and met up at the Red Roof Inn on West Walnut Avenue in Dalton with the Chrysler Town & Country minivan that Wathen was captured in. The press release identified the three suspects as white. Thornton and Wathen are also white. The press release said the three suspects are between the ages of 30 and 50.

"It is believed after moving the (stolen) money from the van to the other vehicle, both vehicles continued northbound on I-75," Woods said. "So we do not believe the three suspects are in our area."

About having $30,000 in cash, "We (people who buy mobile home tires and axles) do carry that amount of money, but we also carry weapons, like a security truck that carries cash," Thornton said, adding he used the money to buy axles and tires.

Asked if it was unusual for someone to be carrying so much cash, Woods said, "Based on the evidence gathered up to this point, the sheriff's office is not suspicious."

Clayton Homes Manager Ronnie Haynes said Friday that Thornton did pick up some tires and axles from his dealership, but he said he did not know he had been robbed.

"He did pick up tires and axles, but he never said a word about being robbed," he said.

Haynes also expressed surprise at how much money Thornton said he had on him.

"I don't know about other places, but he pays us with checks," he said.

Thornton said that as a result of the robbery it is likely that people who buy mobile home tires and axles will not carry so much cash in the future.

Woods said that as of Friday the sheriff's office had no further information to release.

"I am expecting to have additional details by early next week," he said.

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