Summerville has been fighting increased crime

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he recommends residents arm themselves and take action in a similar situation.

Burglaries have been rising in Augusta for at least the past five years, and one of the city's most prestigious neighborhoods reflects that trend.

In a summer already rife with violent acts, Friday's early morning killing of a burglar by one of Summerville's most prominent residents -- Judge Carlisle Overstreet -- illustrates the area's plight.

From 2005 to 2009, burglaries in Richmond County have increased from 2,808 to 3,243, according to sheriff's office statistics

Since 2005, 255 burglaries and 34 robberies have occurred in Summerville -- an area roughly bordered by Highland Avenue on the west, Heard Avenue on the east, Wrightsboro Road on the south and Cumming Road on the north.

This year is already on track to surpass 2009, with 39 incidents through August. There were 44 total last year.

Attorney Joe Neal Jr., the president of the Summerville Neighborhood Association, said residents have employed text-alerts, e-mail chains and neighborhood watches in an attempt to quell the crime.

Neal said burglaries and break-ins have put the residents on edge, echoing Sheriff Ronnie Strength's assertion at a news conference on the shooting Friday that people shouldn't hesitate to defend themselves in their homes.

"I can tell you right now if someone walks inside my house, I'm going to blow their head off," Neal said. "If someone is in the house, he is asking to get shot and the law gives them every right to pull the trigger."

Home invasions aren't particularly common, but they can be one of the most intrusive and frightening types of crime.

Most often they are the result of drug-related crime and pre-planned, Sgt. Calvin Chew told a Chronicle reporter in a July story on the subject. Random home invasions are rare and usually the result of a bungling burglar entering a home he thought was empty, Chew said.

That is what investigators think happened Friday morning when at least two men smashed their way into Overstreet's Cumming Road home and stole a laptop computer.

Strength said the apparent disregard by the burglars to muffle the sound of their entry and the fact that Overstreet's vehicle was out of sight in the garage makes it likely they had no idea the judge was at home asleep.

David Dunagan, the chairman of the Summerville Crime Watch Committee, said he received a call Friday morning from a woman living at Monte Sano Street and Walton Way who said a white man in his early 20s had been spotted in her backyard Thursday evening. She notified police, who were unable to track him down.

Dunagan, who handles the neighborhood's alerts, said residents were very concerned after the news of the home invasion. Though burglaries are not rare in the area, home invasions are.

He said one-third of the 2,400 Summerville homes have been receiving e-mail and text alerts since the program started in January.

The association released its quarterly newsletter Monday, the cover featuring a black-and-white photo of six gun-carrying men from the 1890s -- the neighborhood's first crime watch.

"Basically there's been crime up here forever," Neal said. "They took it serious back then and we take it serious now. It's come full circle."

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this article.

Georgia gun laws

1. Who can have a gun?

- Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun may carry a gun on private property, home, a motor vehicle or place of business without a license.

- If the gun is loaded while being carried, it must be carried in an open and fully exposed manner.

- Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun can carry any gun as long as it is enclosed in a case and unloaded.

Source: Senate Bill 308, passed by Georgia Legislature in 2010 session, signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on June 4

2. When can you use your gun?

Georgia law outlines three instances when deadly force can be used:

- Defense from a forcible felony: If you reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to yourself or a third person. You are not justified if you are the aggressor.

- Defense of habitation: If a person breaks into your home in a violent or tumultuous manner and you think the intruder is going to assault you or someone living there. Deadly force is also legal if someone breaks into a home and you know it's not a lawful entry or if you know the deadly force would prevent the person from committing a felony.

- Defense of property (other than habitation): Deadly force cannot be used to protect property, unless it will prevent a forcible felony from occurring.

Source: The Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-3

SOUTH CAROLINA GUN LAWS

1. When can you use deadly force?

- You must believe you are in imminent danger of death or harm.

- If you believe you are in such danger, you can use deadly force only if a reasonable or prudent man of ordinary firmness and courage would have believed himself to be in such danger.

- You are without fault in bringing on the difficulty

- You had no other probable means of avoiding the danger of losing your life or sustaining serious bodily harm

Before using deadly force, even in self-defense, you have a duty to retreat if you are:

- On a public street or highway

- In a store where the public is invited

Source: South Carolina Code of Laws

www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t23c031.htm