What began as one man’s trip to the supermarket for two gallons of milk — in, of all places, Georgia’s dairy capital — spilled over into a 95-mph police chase through two counties.
All because, as the Putnam County sheriff tells it, a man named Michael Douglas Freeman wanted to smoke a cigarette on a bus — and because Freeman had apparently been drinking more than milk.
Freeman, a retiree who lives near the northern shores of Lake Sinclair, was a passenger on a Putnam Transit bus Friday afternoon. He had ridden the bus into Eatonton on Friday morning and was toting the milk he’d just bought.
About 3:30 p.m., when he was almost home, Freeman lit a cigarette, Sheriff Howard Sills said. The woman driving the 20-seater bus carrying Freeman and another man on board promptly told Freeman to put out his cigarette.
The “obviously intoxicated” Freeman “took exception,” the sheriff said, and when the driver pulled over east of U.S. 441 near Scuffleboro Road, telling Freeman to stop smoking or get off the bus, Freeman snatched the keys from the ignition.
“After cutting her on the arm with the keys, he pulled out his lighter and briefly ignited her hair,” the sheriff said.
The driver swatted out the flames and wasn’t injured. She and the other passenger hopped off the bus.
Freeman, 63, allegedly took the wheel and sped off. He zoomed up and down the road a couple of times, cussing as he passed the driver and the left-behind passenger on the roadside, Sills said. “I guess to demonstrate his ability to drive.”
At one point, Freeman tossed driver Linda Grandt’s purse out the window and kept going, the sheriff said.
Grandt, 56, dialed 911.
A Putnam sheriff’s deputy soon spotted the white-and-blue bus racing toward Pea Ridge Road.
The bus forced a Cadillac Escalade off the road and roared east along Oconee Springs Road at 70 mph, the deputy on its tail. When the bus swung onto Sparta Highway, another deputy was waiting.
The bus rumbled over some spikes designed to halt fleeing automobiles, flattening one of its front tires. But that didn’t stop it. It motored on with its lame tire flapping, topping 95 mph and cresting hills on the wrong side of the highway as it streaked into Hancock County.
Thirty-one miles into the pursuit, when the bus reached the courthouse square in Sparta about 4:15, a Putnam deputy rammed the bus to a stop.
An ambulance came but no one was hurt. Even so, it took some doing to get Freeman off the bus, Sills said. “He wouldn’t open the door. … Then he tried to bite the EMTs.”
Freeman was jailed on charges that include battery, aggravated assault, eluding police and drunken driving.
“This will be his seventh DUI,” Sills added.
As for the milk, though still cool, it was tossed.
“It was going to spoil,” the sheriff said.