Originally created 04/02/02

Lead emerges in hit-and-run



Richmond County investigators have a new lead in the hit-and-run death of 5-year-old Divine Monroe.

Leroy Crew, a local musician being held at the Richmond County jail on a parole violation, has passed information to the sheriff's office implicating a local photographer. He said the man tried to sell him the damaged car and confessed to hitting Divine.

"He was only trying to buy a bag of weed and on his way out, the little girl wandered out into the street. He said he tried to avoid hitting her, but it was too late," Mr. Crew wrote.

The accusations, obtained this week by The Augusta Chronicle, include the suspect's name and address, and details on the model of car and efforts by the man to cover up the wreck.

Sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said investigators have received information from Mr. Crew and are working with the District Attorney's Office.

"We are investigating allegations made by this guy in reference to the Divine case," the major said.

Witnesses said Divine was struck by a small gray two-door car with tinted windows as she ran across Teakwood Drive toward a bus stop March 13, 2000. She suffered severe brain damage and was hospitalized for three months before her father took her home to provide 24-hour care for her. She died Aug. 8 from accident-related complications.

The high-profile case shocked the community and led the Governor's Office to add $5,000 to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office's $2,000 reward for information in the case.

Police have been chasing leads for two years without an arrest. If Mr. Crew's tips pan out, police say, a suspect could be charged with vehicular homicide.

Mr. Crew says he met the suspect in prison while serving time for cocaine possession. He was released in 1999 and ran into his friend a year later while recording an album. The friend agreed to take pictures for an album cover.

During a meeting at the man's Augusta home, Mr. Crew said, the friend offered to sell him a damaged gray Honda for $100.

"All you need is a hood and a windshield," Mr. Crew quoted the man as saying.

But the deal never happened. Later, the man attended a concert to photograph Mr. Crew. At the concert, Mr. Crew spoke to the crowd about the Divine wreck, calling the driver who hit her a "coward."

The next day, his photographer friend called and asked whether he knew.

"I was like, 'Know what?' He was like, 'You put it together,"' Mr. Crew states in his letter. "He then got quiet and began to say it wasn't his fault."

Mr. Crew said he tried to persuade his friend to turn himself in, but the photographer said he had just gotten out of prison and could't go back. He also allegedly threatened to harm Mr. Crew if he told authorities.

Mr. Crew said he gave his information to deputies who worked for Columbia and Richmond counties, but nothing ever came of his tips. He recently contacted the Richmond County Sheriff's Office again.

Mr. Crew, 29, has been in the Richmond County jail since Feb. 18, when he was arrested for the parole violation. He has four children, including an infant son he named after Divine.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.