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Arrest made in Murray County murder case

A 26-year-old man accused of murder and concealing the death of another was arrested by Murray County officials on Friday morning, just a few hours after the victim's body was found. His arrest comes just a day after he was released from Gordon County Jail.

According to the GBI:

On Friday, the GBI obtained warrants for the arrest of Eric Stewart on charges of murder and concealing the death of another, after the Calhoun office was requested by the Murray County Sheriff's Office to assist in a murder investigation regarding the death of Donnie Charles. At approximately 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Murray County 911 Center was contacted about Charles being found behind his Murray County residence at 1263 Sexton Road, Resaca.

During a search of the property near Charles' residence, a campsite was located with bloody items belonging to both Charles and Stewart. Witnesses had stated that Stewart had been camping behind Charles' residence.

At approximately 11:15 am, Stewart was apprehended by Murray County Sheriff Gary Langford and Chief Deputy Jimmy Davenport. He was not far from the campsite and murder scene.

Stewart had been released from the Gordon County Jail on Thursday. He was arrested by Calhoun police on May 1 on charges of theft by shoplifting and obstruction or hindering law enforcement officers.

Charles' body was taken to the GBI Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy on Saturday, and the results are pending.

This joint investigation between the GBI and Murray County Sheriff's Office is ongoing.

Taylor: 'God was always in control'
• After suffering a heart-related collapse, local official gives credit for his "miraculous" recovery to God.

Courtney Taylor

When someone takes a CPR class to become certified, they don't expect to actually have to use what they learned in a real-life experience. Yet, days after a young man was certified, he jumped right into an emergency situation and performed CPR in a non-simulated situation.

On April 9, Courtney Taylor, the director of the Gordon County Emergency Management Agency, collapsed in the middle of exercising at Workout Anytime and stopped breathing. Garrett King, 24, who had been training to become a state trooper and was working out in the same room Taylor was, didn't see Taylor fall, but he was one of the first to respond, beginning CPR almost as immediately as he arrived to Taylor's side.

Other gym staff called 911, and Gordon County Schools Lead Nurse Cortney Temples rushed to King's side to help with administering CPR, and soon after, AdventHealth Gordon EMS and the Calhoun Fire Department arrived on the scene.

Later that evening, Taylor was taken to Redmond Hospital in Rome, and less than two weeks later, he was back on the job. But the response to his collapse from people Taylor's worked with for years was something he couldn't put into words.

"Garrett did it right," Taylor said. "Millions get CPR-trained, but hardly any of them ever use it. He'll probably be confident in it forever now."

The collapse

On any other Tuesday afternoon, Taylor would be leaving his office around 4:15 p.m., but on April 9, he decided to leave a bit early because he would be attending the Gordon County Board of Commissioners meeting later that evening.

Taylor said he could count on one hand the number of times he's left work early, and most days it was on the same days as county commission meetings so he could get in a quick workout before attending.

"God put a lot of things in place, he was always in control," Taylor said. "I left 15 minutes early and wrote it down when I left. That's the last thing I remember from that day."

Leaving work, Taylor headed to Workout Anytime on Ga. 53, where he has a gym membership, and headed straight for the treadmill.

With a history of heart issues, Taylor has been extremely cautious about maintaining a regular exercise routine and a healthy lifestyle, especially since his heart bypass surgery in 2017. Since the surgery, he's run several 5Ks, and has worked to be proactive against future heart complications.

But on April 9, Taylor experienced a collapse caused by cardiac arrest, which is when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. Following running a mile and a half, Taylor was about to run another mile after a brief break, when he collapsed and fell off the treadmill, hitting his head on the concrete floor.

The response

When Taylor collapsed, Gill Villatoro, a staff member who was working at the front desk, rushed over to him and put him on his side, and checked for a pulse.

"Everything was going so fast but also so slow at the same time, it's hard to explain," Villatoro said.

The gym staff called 911 as soon as possible, and when King was made aware of the situation, the newly-certified state trooper didn't hesitate before beginning CPR. And as Temples was walking out of the locker room to begin her workout, she was notified of the situation, and rushed over to help King.

"(King) was doing a phenomenal job when I got there," said Temples, an American Heart Association CPR Instructor. "The compressions are the most important part of CPR and he was going far enough down, fast enough."

Temples helped perform breaths, while King continued with compressions, and for about two minutes, they alternated as the EMS and fire department team made their way to the gym.

According to what Taylor's been told, one of the AdventHealth Gordon ambulances was on Ga. 53 and McDaniel Station Road for a nonemergency call, and turned around to respond to the call from Workout Anytime.

When paramedics and fire personnel got to the gym, they put Taylor on a stretcher and took him to the ambulance, all while still performing CPR. He was taken to AdventHealth Gordon to be stabilized and then was taken to Redmond, where he stayed for over a week.

Taylor's wife, Wendy, who he describes as "his rock and the best caretaker ever," told him he woke up several times not knowing where he was or why he was in a hospital. Throughout testing and monitoring his status at Redmond, doctors said if everything didn't happen exactly the way it did, Taylor might not be in the same situation.

"Had I stayed at work until the regular time, I probably wouldn't have walked out that door until 4:15," Taylor said exactly three weeks after the incident. "I'm in that office by myself, and if I'm in my office and that same thing happens, there's nobody looking for me until maybe the commissioner meeting or when my wife got to the gym."

Villatoro, who experienced the entirety of the situation, couldn't help but think of the "what ifs" – what if Taylor hadn't left work early, what if he had cardiac arrest in his car or even in the gym locker room? The gym employee said had not everyone been exactly where they were, he doesn't know what would have happened.

Taylor's perspective

Taylor didn't remember anything after he left work on April 9, and his memory only started to kick in five days after his collapse. But after watching the video recording from Workout Anytime's camera and being told what happened numerous times, he said the success of the situation "goes entirely to God."

Not only did King jump straight into performing CPR, but Temples helped him, Gordon E911 dispatched units immediately, the EMS vehicle was minutes away, Calhoun Fire responded quickly and other factors contributed to helping Taylor get the best treatment, the best attention and the most effective recovery possible.

King told Taylor he viewed the situation with the same lens, as did Villatoro, who said everything "played out the way God wanted it to."

"People have told me I'm a miracle, I'm this, I'm that, but I don't really want that spin. I didn't do anything, I don't remember it, I'm not a miracle. The way it all happened and the outcome is the miracle" said Taylor, adding that he wanted this story to give the credit to God.

"God created the miracle and I was just blessed to receive it. It's a miracle you had a state trooper there, you had a registered nurse there, that you had an ambulance crew a minute and half away... All I did was play dead for a while. I had nothing to do with it. He used great people as his tools to help save my life and I can't thank them enough."

Less than two weeks after the cardiac arrest, Taylor was back in his office and back at the gym. He's been recovering as quickly as possible, riding the stationary bike at Workout Anytime (until doctors clear him to run again, which he's itching to do) and working the BBQ, Boogies and Blues during his first week back on the job.

As the director of the county's emergency management agency and a first responder for the last twenty one years, Taylor has experienced his share of emergency situations. He hasn't often been on this side of one. And to know that those in his field of expertise handled his collapse so carefully and efficiently was comforting to Taylor.

"They did what we do," Taylor said. "It would have been the same response if it had been me, you, if it would have been any other person in that gym. That's a good feeling to know there are people that love the community enough to go out and do that job every day."

Wings & Wheels

On Saturday the annual Wings & Wheels Day at Tom B. David Airport displayed around 100 classic car engines, offered rides in airplanes brought in from around the Southeast and provided food trucks. Locals packed the designated parking lots in order to participate in the yearly event, which started in 2002.

Literacy outside the classroom
• Campaign director talks to community about child literacy levels – and how to improve them.

By the third grade, not only are children supposed to transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," but they are also expected to be at proficient literacy levels. Arianne Weldon shared that only 37 percent of Georgia students are at this age.

Weldon spoke at the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce's first annual booster lunch on Friday about child literacy in Georgia and her attempts to bring awareness to external factors that affect language skills.

Weldon is the director of the Get Georgia Reading campaign and has spent her career in child epidemiology – or the study of public health. And while she doesn't specialize in teaching students how to read, she's been studying literacy levels in Georgia students for the past six years, specifically zeroing in on third-grade students and their reading abilities.

Through studying graduation rates and comparing them to third-grade reading levels, as well as conducting other methods of research, Weldon has been able to conclude that by the end of third grade, if students are proficiently literate, then they have better chances of being successful later on in life.

Some of the factors she listed as being influential of reading levels included physical and mental health, child care conditions, early

brain development and even parental education levels.

"The maternal level of education is one of the most significant predictors of a child's literacy outcomes," Weldon said. "But language skills, such as expressive and receptive language, in fact are greater of an impact than poverty and parental education. When children don't have language, their behavior becomes their language."

Weldon clearly communicated that literacy is not just about reading or the education system, but it also includes factors like home atmosphere, summer learning loss and even school attendance.

"One half of children in preschool and elementary schools in Georgia have untreated tooth decay," Weldon said. "That leads to trouble eating and sleeping, difficulty paying attention and keeping up academically and increased school absences. Six days of absence make a difference (in a child's literacy level)."

Given the many factors that contribute to a student's reading and language skills, Weldon proposed solutions for increased third-grade literacy levels – language nutrition, access, positive learning climates and teacher preparation and effectiveness.

Through the Get Georgia Reading campaign, Weldon and her team have been working with legislators and local officials to help bring about change across the state, increase school climate ratings and provide avenues for students in Georgia to excel in their education and literacy, but also to excel later on in life.

Through her years of research, Weldon has gathered tools, patterns and techniques to help increase third-grade literacy rates in the state, without putting the entire solution on the backs of educators. Her goal, she said, is to transition this conversation to be encompassing of all aspects of a child's life and work toward a more successful future, with literacy as an end goal.

"When we put all things on the shoulder of one system, that's not really the point – it can't just be about teaching and education alone," Weldon said. "It's everyone together. Literacy is an outcome."

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