A sequence of events that ended in the murders of two Peach County sheriff’s deputies nearly two years ago began with a 20-second roadside encounter on a balmy fall Sunday afternoon.
A young man was motoring down a countryside-neighborhood road on a four-wheeler. He was on the outskirts of Byron, following another guy on a dirt bike, who was popping wheelies as they sputtered along.
The young man on the four-wheeler, Kelvin Ross, was using a cellphone camera to capture live-action video of the ride. His camera was recording as they approached the south end of Hardison Road, about 10 miles northeast of Fort Valley.
At the edge of the road stood Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr., lurking at the end of his driveway, armed with a shotgun.
The motorcyclists eased to a stop in front of him.
Ross’s cellphone video of their encounter on Nov. 6, 2016, and police dashcam footage from patrol cars of the sheriff’s deputies who would later arrive to deal with the confrontation combine to paint the clearest picture yet of an episode that may never be fully understood. Because what, exactly, compelled Elrod, out of the blue, to whip out a Glock 43 pistol and execute two lawmen who’d come to arrest him for threatening the motorbikers will likely forever remain a mystery.
Elrod’s son, Jarrod, who at the time was himself a sheriff’s deputy in another county, has said his father was bitter, possibly consumed by anger, and known to act unpredictably — especially when he was drinking.
And on that fateful Sunday afternoon, as the senior Elrod would tell investigators, he had downed at least a six-pack.
Elrod, an electrician by trade who at the time was 57, pleaded guilty last week to murdering deputies Daryl Smallwood and Patrick Sondron. Though he had faced a death penalty trial, Elrod’s plea led to two life-without-parole sentences.
Footage obtained by The Telegraph through an open records request shows the minutes before and after the slayings and includes never-before-publicly-seen video of what unfolded that day.
Elrod’s house on Hardison, which runs north of Ga. 42 a few miles west of Interstate 75, was on property that adjoins the lot where the young men on the motorcycles were heading. Elrod had in recent months complained to the cops and other officials about problems he claimed to have with those neighbors.
His wrath apparently boiled over when the motorbikers revved past.
When the dirt bike and the four-wheeler halted in front of Elrod, Ross, who was on the four-wheeler, turned the cellphone camera’s lens away from the shotgun-toting Elrod but kept recording.
Though the video is shaky, Elrod’s rage roars through loud and clear.
“You can’t run this (expletive, expletive) up and down … (in front of) my house,” Elrod said. “I’m gonna kill your (expletive) ass!”
“All right,” Ross replied, “my fault, man.”
“You understand me?” Elrod said.
“Yes, sir,” Ross said.
“I’m getting tired of your (expletive, expletive),” Elrod said.
Then he told motorbikers to “go on.”
Minutes later, the cops were called. Deputy Sondron went to the neighbors’ house and spoke to the motorbikers about their exchange with Elrod. Sondron also watched the cellphone video of the encounter. Afterward, Sondron and deputy Smallwood, in separate patrol cars, rode over to Elrod’s house.
“Hey, howdy,” Sondron said, stepping up to greet Elrod after pulling into Elrod’s driveway and parking behind Smallwood. “Tell me what’s going on with your neighbor.”
Elrod, wearing cargo shorts, walked over and began talking to Sondron between the two patrol cars. His untucked green T-shirt hid a pistol tucked away at the back of his waistline.
“Man,” Elrod began, sounding far calmer than he had in the minutes before while cussing the motorbikers, “I’ve had multiple complaints with these people over here … running these damn quads (four-wheelers) and dirt bikes up and down the road. … They’ll get out there and pop wheelies back and forth. … Ain’t nobody doing nothing about it.”
“Why’d you take your gun out there?” Sondron asked.
“I didn’t take my gun out there,” Elrod lied. “I been out here shooting squirrels for two weeks. … I came out there, I said, ‘Hey, stop. Quit running up and down the damn road.’ … That was it.”
“Well,” Sondron said, “that’s not it. … Just so you know … they had a video going. OK? And they got everything that you said to them, and a picture of you with a gun in your hand.”
“Yeah, I had my squirrel gun in my hand,” Elrod said.
“Well,” Sondron replied, “I hate to say it, partner, but that’s not good. You can’t do that, OK? … You took what you felt was your authority out in the road, and you told that man … that you’re gonna kill him. … They had a video going, and that’s terrible for you.”
Sondron asks Elrod, “Where’s your gun at?”
“What difference does that make?” Elrod answered.
“I need to see it,” Sondron said.
“Nah, you don’t,” Elrod replied.
“Well,” Sondron said with a nod, “just so you know, you’re under arrest. OK?”
“No,” Elrod said as he reached with his right hand for the pistol hidden beneath his shirt, “I’m not.”
“Yes,” Sondron said, grabbing for Elrod’s left wrist to handcuff him.
In footage viewed by The Telegraph but not included in the videos released publicly, Elrod can be seen, in a blur, twisting away from Sondron, snatching the concealed Glock, raising it high to about eye level and firing at close range in the direction of Sondron’s head or shoulders.
Sondron struggled for a few steps as he lunged to keep hold of Elrod’s left arm, but as Elrod opened fire with his free hand, Sondron fell mortally wounded at the driveway’s edge.
In a flash, Elrod swung his aim to Smallwood, who was facing him. Elrod shot Smallwood, and in an instant, Smallwood collapsed.
The gunfire lasted all of maybe three seconds, with Elrod getting off half a dozen or so shots. Smallwood, mortally wounded, fired a single shot that missed.
Elrod then lingered in his driveway for a minute or two, not rendering aid or calling for help. At one point he meandered back to the shooting scene and stood over the fallen lawmen as they lay motionless.
He then retreated into his house and emerged, in blue jeans and tactical gear, armed with an AR-15 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.
Sirens wailed in the distance. More police officers, ones who had by then been called by neighbors who heard the shooting, were on the way, racing to help the deputies.
As the cops closed in, footage from Smallwood’s dashcam shows Elrod dart from his garage and duck in front of Smallwood’s black-and-white squad car. Elrod laid his shotgun on the hood and peeked over the car’s roof, scanning the road in front of his house, where cops had converged.
As he raised his rifle he was shot in the side by Byron police officer Wesley Griffis, who was off camera in the distance.
“Oh, God! Damn!” Elrod yelled, squeezing off a barrage of shots toward the road maybe 40 yards away.
He squatted to reload, groaning all the while.
Fifteen or so seconds later, after the officers returned fire, Elrod stayed low, leaning on the hood of Smallwood’s car to train his weapon in the direction of other cops.
Then he unleashed a four-second fusillade — injuring no one — before pausing to reload again.
But this time he doubled over in pain.
On the ground in front of the car — all but out of camera view — Elrod moaned repeatedly. Then he set the rifle down and raised both hands in surrender.
“Enough! I’m down!” he shouted. “I’m down! I’m down!”
With a long, low scream he disappeared from camera view.
He would lie there for a few minutes, sprawled in his driveway.
In apparent agony, he howled through moans, “Ahhhhh … I’m down!” as officers moved in to arrest him.