Holiday weekend homicides push count past '09

Josey's Darnell Brown (left) drives down court. Brown was one of three people shot on Second Avenue in Augusta on July 4.

Darnell Brown was a good athlete, but more than that, he was a good person, said his former Josey High School football coach.

"You couldn't find a finer young man than him," said Barney Chavous. "He was somebody special."

Brown, 19, was shot in the head in a vacant lot on Second Avenue where a large group of people had gathered for a cookout on Independence Day. A talented football and basketball player, Brown was preparing to attend Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.

The gunman -- who investigators have identified as Jerome Jerrod "Dirt" Sturgis, but have yet to apprehend -- was heard yelling at Brown about money before he began shooting, according to Richmond County Sheriff's Lt. Calvin Chew. Two bystanders, 19-year-old Wayne Howard and an unnamed 12-year-old boy were shot as well.

Brown was the second to die over the long Fourth of July weekend but not the last. It was one of a series of incidents that stained the otherwise celebratory mood in the city.

The bodies of Jeramie Anthony Hammonds, 20, and Kayla Marie Wells, 19, were found by people riding four-wheelers in a wooded-area off Glenn Hills Drive Monday afternoon. They had multiple gunshot wounds. Deputies have yet to locate a suspect in that case.

On July 2, the body of Jquanda Johnson, 27, was found in her home in the 800 block of Spruce Street. Residents had been knocking on the door for two days before maintenance workers entered the apartment and found her body. No suspect has been identified.

Homicide numbers were keeping pace with last year's total until July 2, when deputies began the July Fourth weekend with the call to Johnson's death. The four homicides that occurred through Monday have brought the year's total to 17.

There were 13 homicide victims by the same time in 2009, according to Chew.

Since Monday, Chew said his investigators have been working overtime, some volunteering to come back from out-of-town July Fourth celebrations.

"To be honest, when Monday came with the two dead I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " Chew said. "I'm really proud of my guys for stepping up to the plate like they always do."

With only one suspect identified out of the five, Chew said they still have a lot of work to do. Citing the ongoing investigations, he would not comment further.

As for why this all happened over just a few days, Chew said it didn't appear that the typical problems caused by holidays contributed -- citing cases where family arguments lead to violence and sometimes death during the stress of a holiday. These cases seem to have underlying causes that investigators have yet to detail.