A Covington Fire Department firefighter was shot but escaped serious injury while chasing down a car stolen by three Atlanta teens Saturday, according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office.
The male juveniles, a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds, allegedly stole a black 2001 Ford Explorer belonging to the relative of CFD Assistant Fire Marshal Tony Smith around 4:50 p.m. from a Walton County residence, according to NCSO spokesperson Investigator Sharron Stewart.
Upon learning the vehicle was stolen, Smith jumped in his car and headed to Alcovy Road to look for it. He reasoned that anyone who had just stolen a car would want to get to the interstate as quickly as possible, "to get out of Dodge," he said.
Smith went into Covington, turned around and was headed north when he spotted the stolen car passing him in the other lane of the two-lane road. Smith quickly made a U-turn and called 911, keeping dispatchers updated on the location.
"I had no intention of any type of confrontation," Smith said. "I was mainly going to follow them and let the dispatch know where they were at."
The stolen car passed a blue 2003 Dodge pickup truck and Smith decided to do the same to keep track of the vehicle, not realizing the blue truck was in cahoots with the stolen car.
"When I was passing the vehicle, something told me to look right," Smith said. He saw the 15-year-old driver hanging out the window of the blue truck with a pistol pointed at him. "I could tell by the look on his face he was aiming to pull the trigger."
What went through Smith's mind next was "unprintable," he said, as he threw his arm up and rolled toward the driver's side.
The 9 mm bullet went through his knee, narrowly missing bones and arteries.
Smith floored the gas pedal and pulled in front of both vehicles. "I guess it's just survival instinct," he said.
He managed to stay a few hundred yards in front for a few more miles, continuing to give updates to dispatchers until he saw NCSO deputies. He pulled over and waved them past.
The cars veered off onto Ga. Highway 142, Stewart said, and the two 16-year-olds in the Explorer and the 15-year-old in the truck got out and fled on foot.
"The juveniles left the vehicle on the side of the roadway and ran into the woods where they were later apprehended," she said. They were arrested without Taser shots fired.
Smith then continued driving until he reached Covington Fire Station No. 2. Everything after that was a blur, he said.
He was taken by ambulance to Atlanta Medical Center for treatment and released five hours later. Despite still having a bullet fragment in his knee and occasionally needing crutches, Smith reported for work Tuesday.
The juvenile perpetrators are in custody and charged with aggravated assault, theft by receiving stolen property, theft by taking, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, unlawful possession of a firearm and pointing a pistol at another, according to Stewart.
The blue truck, which was reported stolen as well out of DeKalb County, had a stolen Kawasaki motorcycle, stolen Yamaha motorcycle and a go-kart in the bed. The handgun was reported stolen from Walton County.
Stewart said she wouldn't recommend members of the public attempting to chase down stolen cars.
"Just call and report it and try to get a direction of travel and the description of the suspects," she said.
Smith commended the actions of deputies, officers and first responders. When asked if he would do the same thing again, he said he would.
"All the public safety people that assisted that day did an awesome job," Smith said. "I'm really grateful for all those co-workers that I have."