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Update: Suspects in standoff case had counterfeiting tools, fake ID docs, license plates, cash (copy)

The man arrested following a standoff with police in Calhoun on Tuesday had a loaded handgun, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, fake identification documents, fake license plates, counterfeit money, an electronic card reader, computers and cash inside the Express Inn room where he barricaded himself for about three hours, according to the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office.

Wesley Swartout, 52, who gave his address as the Express Inn, was wanted on forgery charges out of Hamilton County, Tennessee, and was already on out of jail on bond after being arrested in Chattooga County in January on fraud, firearm and obstruction charges. He is now being charged by the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office with aggravated assault against peace officers, firearm and fraud charges.

Schalles Williams, 52, of Tennessee, was arrested outside of the hotel room before Swartout pulled out a weapon and barricaded himself inside a room. She was already wanted in Bradley County, Tennessee, on forgery charges. She is being held for that agency.

The sheriff’s office said in a press release on their website Wednesday that more charges are expected against both individuals.

The incident began Tuesday afternoon when deputies arrived at the hotel to investigate complaints about drug and counterfeiting activity. Williams was arrested without incident, but Swartout pulled a handgun, pointed it at deputies and ran into a room. A deputy fired at Swartout but he was not hit.

The Georgia State Patrol SWAT Team was called to the scene and eventually breached the room and filled it with tear gas before entering and detaining Swartout.

Sheriff Mitch Ralston said, “I commend all of the officers, state and local, who successfully resolved this issue and effectively apprehended a dangerous offender and his co-conspirator. The state patrol are great partners to have in our mission of keeping Gordon County safe, and we know that we can always call on them. My deputies also did a good job in identifying these violators and collecting the evidence necessary for prosecution. We are thankful that no innocent people were hurt, and this incident serves as a reminder of how dangerous law enforcement can be, and how fortunate our community is to be served by the individuals on my staff as well as the State law enforcement agencies.”

Swartout was identified as “potentially violent and dangerous” by officials with the sheriff’s office on Tuesday afternoon and the Georgia State Patrol SWAT Team was called to the scene. Swartout had barricaded himself in a room and refused to exit for about three hours before SWAT used a special armored vehicle to deploy tear gas and enter the room.

According to the sheriff’s press release, deputies had received a tip about criminal activity and possible fugitives from justice at the inn.

A man at the scene claimed responsibility for contacting police and said he had spoken with the suspect prior to the incident. He said one of the individuals claimed to have robbed a bank in Tennessee and told him that the license plates on his two motorcycles and R.V. were fakes. He also said the suspects said claimed to cash, guns and illegal drugs inside the room.

“He said he would kill himself before he goes back to jail,” the man, who spoke to two members of the media on the condition of anonymity, said. “That’s what he told me.”

The man told reporters at the scene that there was also a woman with the man who was also wanted in Tennessee.

No injuries were reported from the event, though Paris said there was some mild irritation caused by the gas they used to subdue the suspect.

A white man wrapped in only a sheet was seen being led away from the scene in handcuffs before 6 p.m.

Members of the sheriff’s office, the Georgia State Patrol, Calhoun Police Department, Capitol Police, Department of Public Safety and others responded to the event.

Paris said additionally detail surrounding the event will be provided as soon as those can be released.


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Yovana Yoga evolves to meet pandemic needs

Even fitness is disrupted during a pandemic.

Sarah DeFoor, who owns Yovana Yoga on South Park Avenue in downtown Calhoun, has had to rapidly evolve her teaching style and method of offering yoga classes since early March, when the first COVID-19 outbreaks hit Gordon County. DeFoor said her top priority from the very beginning was making sure her students could be safe. The changes weren’t about business — they were about people.

“I’m not going to put anyone at risk so that they can practice yoga,” DeFoor said. “We closed before we were told we had to because I didn’t feel, ethically, that we could remain open when we knew what was going on.”

Instead, DeFoor connected with three other yoga studios in North Georgia and began teaching yoga online using Facebook Live. Students, watching from cell phone and laptop screens, could continue practicing within the comfort of their own homes.

It was a first for DeFoor, who had never before offered classes online with Yovana Yoga, but she said it was an immediate success, not only because of the breadth of classes offered on demand—a whopping 250, by her last count—but also because yoga and meditation became a way for those taking classes to cleanse their minds and relieve stress.

“Personally, in my own practice I’ve done more of the meditation than the yoga lately because it’s what I have needed most,” she said. “That’s just been a really nice way to calm myself down during all of this, and I think it has been for other people too.”

Other classes offered through the online group include yoga for back care, alignment-based yoga, flow yoga, yin yoga, chair yoga, qigong, yoga nidra, power yoga, restorative yoga and even barre and pilates courses. New offerings are being added every week and are available for auto-pay studio members.

In mid-May, DeFoor decided she wanted to start slowly adding in-person classes back to her schedule. It didn’t seem safe to do so inside the studio, where members might be closer together than social distance allows, so she instead decided to rent green space a block from the studio to hold classes outside. Students are spaced 10 feet apart during these classes and are encouraged to bring beach towels to practice on.

“We are learning new information every day. You don’t know how much research and how many rabbit holes I’ve been down. I’m a restorative yoga teacher, so in the beginning I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out how to keep blocks and props sanitized until I finally decided that we wouldn’t use them or mats anymore,” DeFoor said. “We’re asking people to bring beach towels to do their practice on so that they can wash them and sanitize them when they get home. Getting away from that was a huge relief because we know people will be safe.”

One outdoor class has been offered every day since May 16 and DeFoor said she intends to continue offering them until the end of the pandemic. She will also be offering online classes throughout the duration. In-person classes are offered in the morning and evening on alternating days. DeFoor said the best way to find out when a class is being offered is to visit the Yovana Yoga website and check the schedule there. It is updated daily.

“It has been so nice to see everyone in person. Even if you’re 10 feet apart, it’s nice to see other people and be out in the sun, moving together as a group,” she said. “I had basically been at home for two months and had barely seen other people before our first class. It was so good to see everybody’s faces and to spend time together.”

Members and new students alike are asked to pre-register for classes by visiting yovanayoga.com and clicking on the ‘Classes’ tab.

On Monday, DeFoor said the studio will be reinstating its Monday night donation classes at 6 p.m. Yoga instructor Melody Parker has been holding the donation classes for the last nine years with all proceeds benefiting the Voluntary Action Center. Pre-registration is required.


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Kemp to let bars, summer school open in Georgia amid COVID-19

Gov. Brian Kemp moved Thursday to relax broad social restrictions in Georgia on bars, nightclubs, summer school classes and overnight summer camps in the coming weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kemp also announced he will extend the public health emergency in Georgia through July 12, granting him powers to continue issuing executive orders.

The latest pulling back of business restrictions comes amid a bump in positive coronavirus cases in recent days prompting caution from local health experts concerned about people returning too quickly to normal behavior.

At a news conference, the governor said “encouraging data” trends in the number of positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations convinced him it was time to start slowly reopening more businesses.

“We remain encouraged by the numbers that we are seeing in testing, hospitalizations and a wide variety of other data points across the state,” Kemp said.

In an executive order the governor signed Thursday, bars and nightclubs will be allowed to reopen starting June 1 after nearly two months of closures, so long as establishments meet strict rules. Restrictions include limiting occupancy to 25 patrons or 35% of a building’s occupancy and only serving drinks to seated patrons or in designated areas.

Summer school classes will be allowed starting next month if schools can keep students separated in classrooms and routinely sanitize facilities. Overnight summer camps will be permitted starting May 31 under similar sanitizing and social distancing requirements.

Live performance venues will remain closed for the foreseeable future, though Kemp said he is working with businesses owners on a reopening plan.

Kemp also announced businesses like restaurants and other gathering spots will be allowed to have larger groups of up to 25 people if they keep six feet of space between them starting in June. The 6-foot rule has applied for several weeks to groups of up to 10 people.

Additionally, the governor is allowing amusement parks, water parks, carnivals and circuses to reopen under several restrictions starting June 12. Sports leagues will also be permitted to hold practices starting June 1 and must abide by guidelines that the leagues themselves have drafted, Kemp said.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, more than 45,000 people had tested positive in Georgia for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. The virus had killed 1,962 Georgians.

Kemp and health officials attributed a bump in positive COVID-19 cases seen on the state Department of Public Health’s website in recent days to a large backlog of old test results the agency received from private labs over the weekend.

The state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, backed Kemp’s decision to ease business restrictions, citing the state’s bolstered testing capacity and the hiring of 800 contact tracers tasked with charting an infected person’s web of physical interactions.

“I felt very comfortable … particularly because the data trends have been staying very, very favorable,” Toomey said Thursday.

Ahead of Kemp’s news conference, leading health experts at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta urged people to continue keeping their distance from each other even as social restrictions begin to relax.

“This pandemic is not over just because a politician is saying it’s safe to get out,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, who chairs the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “I think there are important economic decisions that need to be made, but what I would tell people is … take care of yourselves, practice social distancing, be careful.”

“The data tells me that I should probably continue sheltering in place,” he added. “I’m not ready to go to a restaurant yet.”

Del Rio, who previously criticized Kemp for waiting too long before ordering Georgians to shelter-in-place, said he expects to see positive COVID-19 cases rise as people interact with each other more and testing increases.

He and a colleague at Emory, Dr. Colleen Kraft, said people need to weigh how comfortable they are exposing themselves or family members to the virus. Kraft, an associate chief medical officer at Emory, said the state should start gaining a better picture of whether cases are on the rise “within the next month.”

In the meantime, Kraft said Georgians should consider viewing their social habits within a “coronavirus circle,” by which she meant the number of other people someone could potentially expose by ignoring social-distancing practices.

“The bottom line is you need to be aware of keeping yourself safe and other people safe,” Kraft said Thursday. “We’re in a country of personal choices, but you need to be sure that you’re being respectful to other people and their medical fragility.”


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By Myriam Perez, a student at Ashworth Middle School.