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ATLANTA — The girlfriend of an Army National Guard soldier who fatally shot a sheriff’s deputy and himself told investigators the gunman “definitely had a drinking problem” and grabbed an assault rifle from his trunk after she made him pull over while he was driving drunk, a Georgia sheriff said Monday.
“She said he had been drinking and he was drunk and that when he gets drunk, he gets violent,” Richmond County Sheriff Ronald Strength said. “Why shoot a law enforcement officer? We don’t have that answer.”
Spc. Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, was randomly firing an assault rifle into traffic from behind his car on the side of an Augusta highway at about 1 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, when Deputy James Paugh pulled over and was shot — apparently not realizing at first that Hodges posed a threat, authorities said.
Hodges served in the Tennessee National Guard but had been training at Fort Gordon in Augusta for six months. Strength said Hodges’ girlfriend told police that they had gotten into an argument in the car after he had gotten drunk at a friend’s house.
“She said he definitely had a drinking problem,” the sheriff said.
Hodges pulled off the highway and into the grass after “she got mad and said, ‘Let me out. I want to go home,’” Strength said. “That’s when he got out and got the rifle out of the car and started shooting.”
The sheriff said Hodges didn’t shoot at the woman, whose name wasn’t released, but seemed to be randomly firing as he emptied one magazine on the M4 rifle and loaded another. Investigators found at least 40 shell casings, though no motorists reported being hit, Strength said. He said authorities were working to trace the gun, and Fort Gordon officials had determined it didn’t come from the Army post.
Meanwhile investigators were awaiting autopsy results likely ready on Tuesday that are expected to include tests for drugs and alcohol in Hodges’ blood.
And investigators were still trying to fill in the details of Hodges’ military service for clues to what led to his outburst.
Strength said authorities had determined the citizen-soldier had served in Iraq, but he wasn’t sure of the timeline. He also cautioned that, while investigators are interested in whether Hodges suffered from any service-related mental problems, “we’re not psychiatrists or psychologists.”
“There are many things that will never be answered,” Strength said.
The military said Hodges had served on active duty and later in the National Guard at least since 2005, when he was stationed at Fort Stewart with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. His four years based at the southeast Georgia post included a yearlong deployment to Iraq from 2007 to 2008.
According to the Tennessee National Guard, Hodges joined its ranks in February after he’d spent about two years in the Georgia Guard.
“This is a time of deep sorrow for all involved and in the midst of this tragedy our thoughts are first and foremost with the families,” Major Gen. Max Haston, Tennessee’s adjutant general, said in a statement Monday. He said the military is working with civilian authorities to figure out what happened.
Neither Tennessee National Guard nor Fort Gordon officials have said what sort of training Hodges was doing at the post in Augusta. He belonged to the 1st Battalion,107th Aviation Regiment based in Smyrna, Tenn., which deployed to Afghanistan in June while Hodges was training at Fort Gordon.
Paugh was one of Richmond County’s veteran deputies, having served for 17 years. Strength said the slain deputy was off-duty but still wearing his uniform when he was shot.
He said Paugh, 47, was riding his motorcycle home after spending the evening on patrol outside Augusta’s fall fair. Authorities believe the deputy spotted Hodges’ car beside the highway and stopped check.
Investigators found Paugh’s motorcycle lying on its side in the grass, leading them to believe Hodges opened fire on the deputy before he could put down his kickstand. Evidence shows Paugh fired two shots from his service handgun, but he missed Hodges.
His funeral was planned for 11 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Augusta.
“We’re set up for more than 1,000,” said sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay. “We know that people are coming from all over Georgia and from throughout the United States.”
Gay said his department has been flooded with emails and notes from well-wishers.
One of them, from a doctor in Ohio, said the deputy “is a true hero” and expressed hope that his family finds some comfort.
“I hope the fact that he is being honored by so many brings them some comfort in this time of loss,” the note stated. “May they feel comfort and love from across the nation.” TAS