LAFAYETTE, Ga. — When a Walker County deputy flipped on his blue lights, Robert Eric Owenby quickly formed a plan of escape. It was not flawless.
Owenby, who knew police had active warrants against him, believed he could disappear through a wooded field behind North Sherry Drive in Rossville. As a child, he rode dirt bikes back there. He had since graduated to bumping over humps in all-terrain vehicles. Best of all, the spot was only a block away.
He slowed down, letting his passenger, Jeremiah Johnson, exit the car. Then he "kicked it," he said. He whipped his girlfriend's Hyundai Sonata left onto North Sherry Drive, then right onto a gravel road. Here was his hideaway.
But he hadn't been back there in at least a year. He found a home under construction at the edge of the woods, with workers on site, a utility van and a Honda Odyssey.
"It f—— my whole plan up," Owenby, 43, told Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Daniel Nicholson, days after his arrest in November.
Owenby, who is on trial in Walker County Superior Court this week, initially declined to meet with Nicholson, the special agent testified Tuesday. But Owenby later changed his mind and met with him in the Walker County Jail. Nicholson was brought in to investigate a Walker County deputy's and sergeant's decision to fire shots at Owenby that day.
Owenby faces 14 counts, with charges of aggravated assault, obstruction of officers, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, failure to maintain lane, driving on the wrong side of the road, failure to use the correct signal and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Deputy Harley Elliott, who tried to pull Owenby over that day, testified Monday that he was only trying to stop him for failing to signal when he turned near James Street in Rossville. He said he didn't know Owenby was in the car — or that Owenby had active warrants out on him. After the chase, he said, Owenby held a gun in his right hand.
Elliott said he fell, and Owenby began to fire shots at him. As he crawled away behind a utility van, Owenby allegedly turned his attention to Sgt. Bobby Webber, who had just arrived as back up.
During his interview with Nicholson, which Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Lynsay Chapman played in court Tuesday, Owenby said he didn't start shooting until the deputy or sergeant did. There is no video to cut through the different versions of events. The Walker County Sheriff's Office has not supplied Elliott or Webber with dash or body cameras.
Owenby said he kept a gun on him at all times because he used to deal drugs. After driving to the construction site, he crashed the car into a pine tree. His driver's side door wouldn't open, lodged against the wood. Still, he said, he tried. He snapped off the handle. As he crawled to the passenger's side, he reached to the floorboard and grabbed his gun, a .45 Ruger.
He said his gun didn't work at first. He said he had loaded it about six months earlier, but this was the first time he snapped the trigger.
"I couldn't believe they was shooting at me," he said. "And my gun didn't work. ... I remember being mad."
He told Nicholson he was going to run away until someone fired shots. He said he then tried to shoot in their direction — but intentionally missed. It's not clear from testimonies exactly how far away the three men were at this point. The officers used vans at the construction site as cover.
"I ain't trying to hit them," Owenby said.
"But you're shooting," Nicholson said.
"My dumb a—— ," Owenby said later. "Actually, at one point I was running toward them. Then ... I took off running."
Owenby got to the house that workers were still framing. Elliott and Webber previously testified that Owenby still carried his gun, so they shot. One of them hit him in the back of the upper right leg. He fell. He staggered up and ran to the woods, leaving his gun behind. He told Nicholson he ran to the Fairlane Oaks Mobile Home Park next door. He rubbed dirt on his face as camouflage.
When he saw police outside his home, he sneaked into an abandoned house across the street, through the back door. Officers found him the next day.
"You have any idea what you put these guys through, seriously?" Nicholson asked. "If you're gonna run, leave the damn gun and run."
Nicholson wondered if Owenby was paranoid, which led to the police chase. He asked if Owenby was on drugs that day. He said he smoked about a quarter of a gram of methamphetamine about four hours earlier that day, just to help him wake up. But, he added, that was "nothing" compared to his old intake, about three times as much per hit.
Attorneys will make closing arguments around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.