published Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Former North Georgia youth pastor charged with child molestation

A former North Georgia youth pastor was arrested this week in Walker County after he was accused of fondling a 15-year-old girl in 2009.

Ronald Howard, 38, was charged with child molestation on Monday and was released from jail after posting bond, authorities said.

Howard, who used to be a youth pastor in Trion, Ga., was involved with a LaFayette High School student from 2009 to 2011, a police report shows.

He went to church with the girl in LaFayette and they volunteered at some of the same organizations together, but Howard wasn’t employed at any LaFayette church, Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

The investigation began after the girl complained to her school principal that she had been touched inappropriately on several occasions, according to a police report.

But most of the incidents occurred after the girl turned 16, which is the age of consent in Georgia, Wilson said. Howard has been charged for an incident in which he reportedly drove the girl to a church cemetery when she was still 15 and fondled her, Wilson said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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