Houston & Peach

Cops: Arrested man is lone rape suspect; task force combing for evidence

A task force of law enforcement officers stayed busy Monday attempting to determine whether a Fort Valley man arrested on a trespassing charge over the weekend is responsible for a string of rapes, attempted rapes and break-ins.

Darrell Ross, 25, of Fort Valley, was charged with criminal trespass, possession of tools for the commission of a crime, possession of a firearm during the commission or attempt to commit a crime, and prowling.

“We believe the person in custody is the person we were looking for,” said J.T. Ricketson, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s office in Perry. “We’re now going through the evidence to see if we can connect him.”

Between April 2 and April 9, five homes were broken into, two women were raped and three struggled with a suspect before he took off. Between April 25 and April 28, Fort Valley officials investigated another rape, an attempted rape and five break-ins.

Ross was arrested about midnight Saturday after a woman and her boyfriend saw him in a wooded area near her Person Street apartment complex. The couple had just pulled into the apartment complex.

Ross, who is being held in the Peach County jail, is not eligible for bond because of a separate probation violation charge against him.

Although he has not been charged in the attacks, Ross matches the description of the suspect in the April incidents, officials said. Task force investigators are attempting to see if they have the evidence to prove he’s the one behind those crimes, Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said.

Ross is the only suspect in the attacks that have kept the Fort Valley community on edge, and Deese said he feels “pretty good” that Ross is the man responsible. But the sheriff added, “Our feelings don’t matter if we don’t have the evidence to prove it.”

Fort Valley Public Safety Director Lawrence Spurgeon declined to say whether Ross was wearing dark clothing, gloves or a mask when arrested. Victims in the earlier incidents described the suspect as wearing those items. In most cases, the victims awoke to find an armed man in their residence. Ross had both a Taser stun gun and BB gun on him when arrested, Spurgeon said.

Investigators are sorting through evidence obtained from a search of Ross’ residence and are in the process of obtaining additional warrants to allow them to perform forensic investigations on electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers and an iPad, Ricketson of the GBI said.

With a suspect in custody, Ricketson said he has encouraged investigators to take their time poring over the evidence. A decision about whether any additional charges will be filed is expected in the next few days, and Ricketson said additional charges are likely.

If Ross is charged and convicted of the sex crimes and break-ins, the $10,000 reward likely can be claimed. The boyfriend of the woman who called police actually confronted Ross after the couple saw him in the woods with a flashlight behind the apartment complex, Ricketson said.

The boyfriend did not believe the man’s explanations, told his girlfriend to call 911 and kept him there until police arrived, Ricketson said.

The early April incidents spurred the formation of the Peach County Sexual Assault Task Force, which includes the Fort Valley Police Department, Peach County Sheriff’s Office, the GBI and the Fort Valley State University Campus Police Department.

Anyone with information related to these crimes is asked to call Fort Valley police at 478-825-3384 or the Peach County Sheriff’s Office at 478-825-8269.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.