Ebola statements draw charges

Published 9:05 pm Monday, October 13, 2014

A Suffolk man arrested in Georgia who was tested for the Ebola virus after becoming ill and saying he had been to Africa has been charged with three counts of giving false statements after authorities discovered he has not recently been out of the country.



Harry Randall Withers, 35, the former manager of downtown wine shop C3Vino, which closed in August, allegedly told two health officials and a Cobb County Sheriff’s Office investigator that he had recently traveled to several countries in Africa, including Liberia, the hotbed of the deadly virus that has sickened and killed thousands.

Chief Deputy Milton Beck of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office said Withers was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and other traffic charges, which are misdemeanors in Georgia.

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After being booked at the local jail, Withers was being evaluated by medical personnel per normal procedures, Beck said.

“During the screening, Mr. Withers showed flu-like symptoms,” Beck said. “He also told the medical personnel he had recently been to Africa within the last several weeks.”

By protocol of the private health company that manages the medical personnel at the jail, Withers was isolated, the state health department was called and arrived to interview Withers, and he was transported in a specially prepared ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he tested negative for the Ebola virus.

“I’m glad it did not pan out any more serious than what it was,” Beck said. “It was a good drill for us to make sure that we have our Ps and Qs covered.”

Nonetheless, Beck said, “It definitely disrupted the jail.”

Beck said further investigation revealed Withers had not recently left the country, and he was charged with three counts of giving false statements, all felonies.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, commended staff at the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service, WellStar Kennestone Hospital and the Cobb/Douglas Public Health District for following the proper protocols.

“From the very beginning, from the very first moment, this case was handled in absolutely perfect manner,” Fitzgerald said. “This patient was isolated at the jail, isolated while he was transported to the hospital, and he was isolated while at the hospital.”

Withers also awaits arraignment in Suffolk on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an alleged confrontation in Kelly’s Tavern on June 28. He was released on his own recognizance for that charge.