A man questioned in a Bulloch County missing person case was arrested early Sunday in Candler County on aggravated assault charges against a friend of the missing man.
Tanner Devin Lanier, 32, of Stockinghead Road, is one of several people interviewed by Bulloch County sheriff’s investigators regarding the disappearance of Eric Waters, aka Travis Eric Smith, said Bulloch County sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens.
Candler County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Justin Wells said Lanier was arrested after a report of shots fired late Saturday night. According to deputy’s reports, the incident occurred on Mercer Grove Church and Watson roads in Candler County, and the victims were Justin Smith and his wife, Kimberly.
Smith is a lifelong friend of Eric Waters and said Waters was working for him when he disappeared Dec. 20. Waters’ family has not heard from him since then, and Bulloch County sheriff’s investigators are actively pursuing the missing person case.
Smith organized a search party Jan. 1 near the area of Portal-Metter and Westside roads, where Waters was reportedly last seen. Since Waters went missing, Smith has been “riding dirt roads” in the area of both counties, seeking clues as to what may have happened to his friend.
“He shot at us”
On Saturday night around 10:30 p.m., Smith and his wife were riding dirt roads when they drove past Lanier’s home, where Smith had left Waters Dec. 20. Smith said he had paid Waters and dropped him off at Lanier’s home on Stockinghead Road.
“I haven’t seen my friend since,” he said.
As Smith and his wife drove past, someone in Lanier’s home shined a flashlight at them, he told the Statesboro Herald. He drove further down the road and saw headlights “approaching at a high rate of speed.”
He turned around in a field and saw the truck stop in the roadway. Lanier stepped out of the truck and Smith stepped out of his, “to see why the (other) truck stopped.” That’s when Lanier aimed a handgun at him, he said.
A chase ensued, with Lanier firing three times at Smith’s fleeing vehicle, according to Smith. His wife called 911 and stayed on the line as Lanier continued to follow them. When they reached Highway 121 and then Highway 80 in Bulloch County, Smith said Lanier rammed his truck and “ran us off the road” near Mike’s Package Shop at the intersection of Highway 121 and Highway 80 before turning around and heading back into Candler County.
Kimberly Smith remained on the phone with 911 as they followed Lanier “at a safe distance,” Smith said. When Lanier pulled onto a dirt road and stopped the truck, Candler County sheriff’s deputies arrived and took Lanier into custody. Smith said as Lanier was being arrested, he yelled threats toward him, warning him “to never ride by his house again.”
Evidence collected, no bond
Incident reports state Lanier is charged with two counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime and possession of methamphetamine. Two handguns — a Glock 9mm and a North American Arms .22 revolver — as well as two 9mm magazines with bullets and three empty shell casings were seized as evidence. Deputies also seized two clear bags containing what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine and a clear glass pipe, reports stated.
Lanier is being held without bond in the Candler County Jail, with further charges possible as the investigation continues, Wells said.
Hutchens said the missing person investigation continues in Bulloch County but did not comment on whether the two cases are related. When asked whether Lanier was a suspect or person of interest in Waters’ disappearance, he said Lanier is “one of the people being questioned.” Hutchens said there has yet been no determination of any crime committed or foul play in Waters’ case.
Anyone with information in either case is asked to contact the Candler County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 685-2568 or the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 764-8888. Tips may be made anonymously.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.