After work Sept. 15, two Robins Air Force Base chaplain reservists took a bike ride together on the base’s fitness trail.
During the ride, the chaplains encountered a civilian base employee who himself was out for a stroll on the path.
They moved to the right of the 7-foot-wide path and slowed down to give the man room to pass.
Paul Gunn, a Nashville, Tennessee, pastor on assignment at the base for a 60-day stint to help train chaplain recruiters, said “hello” as they neared the pedestrian.
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But then, the pedestrian, 61-year-old Gregory Thomas, jabbed his elbow into Gunn’s arm, saying “the trail is not for bicycles,” Gunn testified Monday in a federal trial for Thomas, who was charged with misdemeanor assault after the incident.
A prosecutor described the assault as Thomas “body-checking” Gunn.
Jurors deliberated a little less than two hours before finding Thomas guilty Monday following a one-day trial at the federal courthouse in Macon.
The other chaplain also testified, backing up Gunn’s version of events.
Thomas, a military retiree-turned civilian employee, testified as the only witness for his defense and claimed the encounter was an accident.
He claimed he became nervous as he saw the two bike riders coming toward him.
“I thought they were going to hit me,” Thomas said. He said he didn’t know the men were chaplains.
Suffering from a weak ankle, he fell and his elbows flew up in an attempt to catch his balance, Thomas said.
“We clipped,” he said.
Gunn and the other chaplain, David Pendleton, testified that Thomas knelt down and begged for forgiveness after learning the men were chaplains.
Thomas denied kneeling, but admitted saying he doesn’t think bikes should be allowed on the trail, but only after the collision.
Gunn was taken to a hospital after his fall and continues to suffer from a shoulder injury, he testified.
“I really had a hard time understanding why someone would do this to me,” he said.
A cyclist since he was a child, Gunn said he’s never struck anyone or anything with a bicycle.
Pendleton said he and Gunn weren’t peddling — merely “gliding” at low speed —when they got close to Thomas.
Evidence in the case showed there’s no written rule barring bicycles from the fitness trail, prosecutor Kevin Ströberg told jurors in his closing statement.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set for Thomas.