Guilty plea for Ebola scare

Published 10:39 pm Friday, December 5, 2014

A Suffolk man who caused an Ebola scare at a Georgia jail after being arrested for driving under the influence pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the incident on Thursday.



Harry Randall Withers Jr., 35, pleaded guilty to three felony counts of making a false statement as well as misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and failure to maintain lane, according to a press release from the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.

“We will not tolerate anyone manipulating the system like this and preying on our worst fears,” said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Melvin, who prosecuted the case. “When you put the county and law enforcement through such a useless exercise as this, we will find out the truth.”

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Withers admitted that after he was arrested and taken to the Cobb County Jail in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2014, he feigned symptoms of the Ebola virus and told a paramedic he had recently traveled to Nigeria and Kenya. He continued to say he had traveled to Ebola-affected regions of Africa when interviewed by the local epidemiology director and a sheriff’s investigator.

In fact, he does not even have a U.S. passport, according to the release. Investigators found he had not left the mainland United States since 2005, and evidence on his own cellphone showed he was in the United States during the time in question.

The sheriff’s office did not know that at the time, though, and took him by ambulance to Kennestone Hospital. As a precaution, some jail operations were shut down, and the ambulance company and officials in charge of the emergency room enacted disease-containment precautions.

Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy III sentenced Withers to 10 years, with one year to serve, though that sentence will be suspended if Withers successfully completes a six-month inpatient drug rehabilitation program in Virginia. He was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Cobb Sheriff’s Office.

Atlanta attorney Kimberly H. Cornwell represented Withers. He has remained in custody since his arrest Oct. 3.