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Officers, firemen accused of theft

Posted: February 24, 2016 - 1:06am  |  Updated: February 24, 2016 - 3:22am

Two Columbia County firefighters arrested during a theft investigation were fired Tuesday afternoon, joining two county sheriff’s deputies who have been terminated in the events surrounding a crash on Interstate 20.

Also Tuesday, two Augusta-Richmond County firefighters were suspended regarding the incident.

Columbia County Fire Rescue Lt. Christopher D. Ganther, 41, and firefighter Randall K. Atchison, 38, had been placed on administrative leave Monday. County spokeswoman Calie Cook confirmed the firing Tuesday.

Sgt. Mark Smith, 38, and Deputy Wesley Harden, 32, were arrested and fired Monday after responding to the accident with injuries Saturday on I-20.

“It’s a sad day in Columbia County,” Cook said. “These actions don’t represent our core values and our No. 1 goal has always been to serve our community with intergrity.”

While working the accident, Smith, Harden and Ganther took property that did not belong to them, according to a release from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. The items were cellphone covers, Bluetooth headsets and cellphone chargers that were scattered at the scene.

According to the release, Smith, Harden and Ganther were arrested on theft charges and violating oath of office, while Atchison was arrested and charged with giving false statements.

In addition to those arrests, two Richmond County firefighters are being investigated in the case. Wesley Hughes and Sgt. Antoine Mullins have been suspended without pay by the Augusta Fire Department, according to department spokeswoman Dee Griffin. Hughes hasn’t been arrested but Mullins was in the process of being arrested, according to a Columbia County jail official.

Mullins was hired by the fire department on Nov. 9, 2010. Hughes was hired Dec. 6, 2014.

The fiery, two-car accident at the Richmond-Columbia county line drew first-responders from both counties, Columbia County Sheriff’s Maj. Steve Morris said.

The investigation was initiated Sunday after another deputy reported the incident.

“Another Columbia County deputy shed light on this incident,” Morris said. “He reported to his supervisor suspicious activity that there was a wrongdoing, possibly a crime, that had occurred at that crash site.”

According to Morris, the accessories in question were found in the possession of one deputy, and upon further investigation, a second deputy turned in the items that were taken and admitted to the theft.

Morris added that he expects the investigation to conclude quickly.

“This is not going to be a long drawn-out investigation,” he said.

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