MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Investigator Kenny Morgan, a veteran lawman of nearly 30 years, came across a felony kidnapping case in progress Wednesday afternoon while driving along the U.S. Highway 441 bypass at Irwinton Road in Baldwin County.
Immediately, Morgan, a former member of Milledgeville City Council and now an investigator with the Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office in Irwinton, sprang into action.
Fortunately, his quick reaction helped bring to an end the abduction of a 69-year-old Milledgeville woman from her residence in the Harrisburg neighborhood about 2 p.m.
As it turned out, the victim wasn’t just another crime victim, but instead, someone Morgan has known all of his life.
“I immediately recognized her when she jumped out of the trunk of that car and started running toward me,” recalled Morgan. “My mama (Maggie), and my auntie (Christine) and this woman are like three peas in a pod. They are all retired and they go shopping together and traveling together all the time. They just enjoy life. I mean, they are really close.”
Though the victim was injured after being punched in the face by her abductor and forced into the trunk of a 2017 Honda Civic, authorities say she is expected to recover. She was checked at the scene by personnel with Grady Emergency Medical Services and then released.
Morgan, who formerly served as police chief at Fort Valley State University and worked as a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for 13 years, said he was heading to Milledgeville to run an errand for the office manager when he spotted the trunk of a car open at the intersection of the U.S. Highway 441 bypass and Irwinton Road.
“I had just passed Midway Hills Academy,” said Morgan. “It was just a normal drive from Irwinton into Milledgeville. When I get up to Irwinton Road, Georgia 243, the very first light — I’m slowing down for the red light because its red — and all of a sudden, I see this car out of the corner of my eye coming up Irwinton Road toward the bypass.”
Morgan said the driver didn’t slow down much, and then made a right turn headed northbound on the bypass.
“I’m looking and the car never stopped; it barely yielded at the red light,” said Morgan. “I could see the trunk and it was flapping. And all a sudden, it went completely up and I could see a lady in the trunk.”
Morgan said his first thought was that it was surreal.
It just couldn’t be.
“I was thinking this isn’t real,” said Morgan. “I was thinking that somebody was just playing around — you know how young folks are. It was unbelievable.”
Morgan said he could see that the woman was frantic.
“I could see that this lady was either trying to get out of the trunk or what not, but again, the car was moving and I would not have [expected] for the person to jump out, because it was steadily moving,” said Morgan.
That’s when the highly-trained investigator took charge of the situation.
Morgan said he immediately turned on the blue lights in his patrol car and briefly chased the car.
“The car went less than a quarter of a mile and then started to slow down on the right side of the road,” he explained. “I could see the person still trying to get out of the trunk. She was pushing the trunk up. I noticed that it was a black female, but I didn’t know who it was at the time.”
The car went off the shoulder of the roadway, down an embankment and to the tree line, he pointed out.
“As I’m pulling up and stopping my vehicle, the lady literally jumps out of the trunk and runs up the embankment,” said Morgan. “She was barefoot. And I was looking at her and I said, that’s Ruby “Deana” Smith. I know her as Deana. I’ve known her all my life.”
Morgan said the victim ran straight for him.
“She ran up so frantically that she almost ran into the highway,” said Morgan. “She said, Kenny, ‘He grabbed me; he kidnapped me.’”
The investigator said when he looked down toward where the man had gotten out of the car, he saw him going into the woods.
“It wasn’t a full stride run, but he was moving pretty good,” said Morgan, noting he didn’t see the suspect with any sort of weapon at the time. “He disappeared in a matter of seconds.”
The investigator said his attention was geared toward the victim.
Morgan said he called Baldwin County 911 to report the crime.
“I let them know I had a found a lady that had been kidnapped,” said Morgan. “They were sending officers as I was talking with them. And she (victim) was steadily trying to relay to me things that had happened while I was talking with the 911 operator.”
At the time, the victim was gasping for breath and just so frantic, he added.
A short time later, Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sgt. Melissa Condon, along with Deputy Meagan Pearson arrived at the scene, as did a host of other deputies and detectives.
Morgan said he subsequently got on the phone and called Wilkinson County Sheriff Rod Chatman to let him know what had happened.
“That was the blessing part in working for a sheriff because he has a canine unit,” said Morgan. “He sent his chief deputy, some investigators and some deputies to help search for the suspect.”
The suspect was later identified as 52-year-old Willie Wilkerson. He was apprehended in Baldwin County Friday afternoon.
Morgan said although some media outlets had referred to him as a hero, he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“I was just doing my job,” said Morgan. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. God placed me there.”