Two connected robberies last week in Liberty County led to the eventual discovery of an active moonshine still by law-enforcement authorities.
The series of linked incidents began Monday night in Hinesville, where a woman was held at gunpoint, assaulted and robbed by two suspects who also briefly took her infant son from her, according to an incident report filed by Hinesville police officer Corey Stevens.
Stevens, who arrived at a residence in the 1000 block of Pineland Avenue in Hinesville shortly after 6:30 p.m., said a shaken-up 23-year-old woman told him that she was in the home with her baby when she heard a knock at the door. The woman said she did not look through the peephole because she was expecting an air-conditioner repairman.
The woman said that when she opened the door, she saw two men standing in the doorway, and they rushed into the home. Afterward, she said, a suspect with dreadlocks struck her with a small purple gun. She said the man then took her infant son out of her arms and walked into the kitchen.
The woman said the other suspect demanded she lie on the ground in the doorway, told her to stay on the ground and asked where the cash was.
At one point, according to the report, the woman yelled, “Take what you want.”
That’s when the man demanding cash pulled the woman from the floor onto her feet and forced her into the bedroom, according to the report.
The woman said the suspect ordered her to lie on the floor as he rifled through her purse, from which he took an undisclosed amount of cash and a Walmart prepaid debit card.
The woman told Stevens that while lying on the ground, she heard the men run out of the house and heard her son crying.
The woman said she left the bedroom, walked toward the living room and saw her son lying on the kitchen floor.
According to the report, she picked up her son, looked out the still-open front door and saw the two men run in the direction of Ellie Lane.
The men also reportedly took a PlayStation 3 wrapped in a blanket with a heart design.
Responding officers established a perimeter for several blocks and brought out a K-9 unit, which lost the suspects’ trail.
The woman told police she and the child were not injured and did not require medical attention.
Later Monday evening, two men matching the description of the Pineland Avenue robbery suspects held two women at gunpoint at the Days Inn in the 1000 block of East Oglethorpe Highway in Flemington.
According to an incident report filed by Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Richard Christian, the pair was having drinks in one woman’s room. The room door had been left open, according to the report, and two men walked in. A man with dreadlocks reportedly hit one of the women with a pistol while ripping a gold chain from her neck. The woman said the man struck her again while demanding money. When she pleaded with him and told him she had no money, the victim said the gunman demanded she lift up her shirt and bra and expose herself while he held the gun on her. The men then forced the women into the bathroom and left, according to Christian’s report. The only item reported missing was a cellphone.
Hinesville Police Department Detective Kyle Larimore said he learned of the Days Inn robbery when Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Detective Julie Hibbler called him to request information about the Pineland Avenue robbery suspects.
On Tuesday at the Subway in the Food Lion plaza in Hinesville, HPD Officer James Fullwood spotted a man who matched the description of one of the suspects involved in the robberies, according to Larimore. The suspect, later identified as Latravis Phillips, was arrested.
Larimore and Hibbler, working together under the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and Hinesville Police Department joint task force formed in November 2013, executed a search warrant at Phillips’ home in the 700 block of Jeannette Circle. They discovered an active moonshine still. Larimore said HPD Officer Mike Gosseck, who was securing the rear of the home, came upon the still when he smelled a strong odor of mash. Mash is a starchy mixture from which grain alcohol is distilled. It is made from a mixture of corn or other grains, yeast, sugar and water.
Gosseck went to investigate what was hidden under a blue tarp, and he discovered the still-warm moonshine still and several barrels filled with what appeared to be liquor. A warrant has been issued for Phillips’ stepfather, Warren Williams, for illegally manufacturing liquor.
On Thursday, Larimore and officers executed a search warrant for a residence in the 2000 block of Weybridge Court in Hinesville, where the second suspect, later identified as Michael Jones, was found hiding under a mattress. He was arrested without incident.
Both men appeared before a magistrate judge last week. Phillips’ bond was set at $40,000, and Jones was denied bond.
The last moonshine-still bust in Liberty County was in June 2010, when Multi Agency Crack Enforcement team agents discovered an operation on Screven Fork Road.