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Sheriff expects more drama at Thurman property
Mar 21, 2005 12:00 am
Authorities set off "mini explosives" inside a "heavily fortified" home perched on perhaps the most prized piece of property in West Wilson County before storming the structure in a cloud of tear gas to end an eight-hour standoff.
Once inside, Wilson County Sheriff's Department officers found Robert Thurman hiding in the gas- and smoke-filled home's attic along with a pistol, shotgun and two pit bull dogs, authorities said.
The tense drama played out on what may well be the most envied piece of property in the western portion of the county, a massive tract adjacent to Mt. Juliet Road which has been the focus of a seven-year court battle.
And one official predicted if the legal bickering doesn't end soon, officers will find themselves paying an equally dangerous return visit to the highly prized site.
"This is the second time in four months we've had to go out there, and if something isn't done and done quick through the civil courts, I honestly believe we'll be back out there again," Sheriff Terry Ashe said Wednesday.
The hundreds of untouched acres surrounding the home have privately been valued by some developers as worth up to $20 million.
Thurman was transported to Nashville on Wednesday, one day after the ordeal, for a court-ordered mental evaluation. Ashe said authorities plan a meeting with the district attorney's office to determine what charges should be filed in connection with the standoff.
The sheriff described Thurman's home as "heavily fortified," with all its windows barred by inch-thick slabs of iron and mattresses stacked against its walls.
"There were rifles, shotguns and and handguns scattered throughout the whole house," Ashe said, adding the home was equipped with an elaborate video security system.
After eight tension-filled hours – with Thurman's attorney, Jack Lowery, trying in vain to talk him into surrendering – the sheriff's department's Special Response Team fired tear gas and "mini explosives" into the home before forcing its way inside late Tuesday night, Ashe said.
"We used them (the explosives) to distract him. We timed that with the tear gas and shutting off the utilities as a way to get in there without hurting him," he said.
Though Thurman was taken into custody without incident after being found in the home's attic, one officer sustained minor burn injuries putting out a small fire started by the explosives inside the home, Ashe said.
The officer, John Edwards – who along with John LaFevor heads the SRT unit – was not hospitalized and Wilson Emergency Management Agency personnel on standby quickly doused the blaze, Ashe said.
But the sheriff said seeing an officer sustain even a minor injury due to civil litigation "just doesn't set well with me."
"This thing has drug on and on and on," Ashe said. "It's just this ongoing saga over some of the most valuable property around here. All the family is feuding and fighting, and I'm afraid we're going to end up with an officer seriously hurt, or else having to hurt someone else, before this is all over."
Officers initially went to the home Tuesday on a warrant issued by Circuit Judge Clara Byrd – who is presiding over the court case involving the land – because Thurman allegedly threatened an attorney entangled in the legal dispute.
In December, sheriff's officers removed Thurman's mother, Lucille Thurman, from the home and attorney David Kennedy was appointed to protect her interests in the land battle as a result of a ruling by Byrd.
Ashe said Kennedy and Mt. Juliet attorney John Gwin, who has also been involved in the case, are among those allegedly threatened by Thurman.
Gwin, when contacted about the multiple lawsuits involving the land last year, called it a "bizarre" case.
The latest significant development in the long-running legal fight came in December, when Byrd ordered Lucille Thurman replaced as head of the family's business partnership by one of her daughters, Celia Cobb.
In Byrd's written ruling on the decision, she stated she felt the 86-year-old Lucille Thurman "is the subject of undue influence at the hands" of her son.
The lawsuit over the land actually began with plans for the much-anticipated widening of Mt. Juliet Road, court documents show.
Numerous utility companies, in preparation for the project, sought condemnation for portions of the land but court records show Thurman Family Partners – with Lucille Thurman at its helm – never responded to the filings.
Gwin and other attorneys contacted about the case late last year said they felt it would move smoothly through the courts with Cobb heading the family partnership.
But Ashe clearly felt otherwise Wednesday, as authorities prepared for a meeting to determine what charges Thurman may face as a result of the standoff.
"I did notice that two or three people with some business interests seemed awfully concerned about his welfare and when I checked his answering machine I was surprised at some of the names that came up," Ashe said. "If somebody wants to be his friend, that's all well and good, but I've just got a feeling there's more to it than that. I think some of them have money on their minds. This whole thing has been about the money."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.