A local mailman spent most of last week in the hospital after being shot in the chest during a robbery on the afternoon of Thurs., March 21. Doug Aldridge, a rural mail carrier from Caledonia, was distributing mail to the shared mailbox center at the Applewood Dr. entrance of the Providence Place subdivision when a masked assailant allegedly demanded Aldridge turn over his wallet. The suspect, described by multiple witnesses as a tall, slender, black male wearing a dark-colored sweatshirt and a bandana over his face, allegedly shot Aldridge and then rifled through his pockets after he fell to the ground. The bandit reportedly ran south from the scene, carrying Aldridge’s wallet as he fled. Radio traffic indicated the suspect was in possession of two guns during the robbery. Aldridge was able to drag himself to his pick-up truck and call E-911. (A trusted source informed me that Aldridge also phoned his superior to let him know what had happened. He also locked the mailboxes before crawling to safety. – CK)
Lowndes County sheriff’s deputies, Columbus police and rescue crews swarmed the area and the manhunt began for the suspect. Roadblocks were set up on Williams Roberts Rd. as authorities secured the crime scene. Aldridge was quickly stabilized and put in one of two waiting ambulances before being rushed to BMH-GT. While in transport, Aldridge was coherent and able to converse with paramedics. He was admitted into Baptist Memorial Hospital Golden Triangle in critical, but stable, condition shortly after 12:40 p.m., reportedly suffering from a gunshot wound to the left side of his chest.
Officers with the Columbus Police Department patrolled the perimeter of the search area while deputies with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department split up and searched in the immediate vicinity of the shooting. Investigators hunted for evidence in trashcans and on the ground at the Yorkville Apartments just west of the scene. A B.O.L.O. (Be On the Look Out) was put out for a white, older model sedan (like a Mercury Marquis or Chevy Caprice) that may have picked up the shooter. A car that matched that description was pulled over on Yorkville Rd. just east of William Roberts by CPD Officer Lance Luckey, but the occupants were quickly released and cleared of suspicion. (Although the spot where they were pulled over was in the county’s jurisdiction, Luckey was able to legally pull over the car as he was deputized alongside CPD Officer Kelvin Lee and former CPD Officer William Thrasher to make arrests in the county. Lee is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Members of several city agencies have recently organized benefits in his honor.-CK)
Moments later, Lowndes County narcotics agents and deputies pulled over a white Mercury Marquis GS just north of the Yorkville Rd. intersection on Highway 69. Two unidentified black males and a black female were briefly questioned, but released after no immediate connection was made to the robbery. Deputies returned to area of the assault and gathered to share information and devise a strategy. They then began to comb the surrounding woods and residences looking for clues. At least two representatives from the US Postal Service arrived at the crime scene to help with the investigation. Federal Law stated that if a crime is committed against a postal worker while he is performing duties related to the job, the violator can be charged under federal statutes. Investigators questioned several residents of the nearby apartment community, but no arrests were made on scene.
Around 1:50 p.m. deputies joined with Columbus police near the Coleman Head Start Center on 22nd St. South. The joint force quickly rolled out and surrounded a home in the southeast corner of 24th St. South and 9th Ave. The same car that had been pulled over on Highway 69 was parked in front of the home. Authorities spoke with a female at the front door and then immediately left the area and headed for the Eveningside Apts. on 9th Ave. N., where one of the suspects was alleged to hang out.
The joint force once again surrounded a home on the northeast corner of 9th Ave and 13th St. North around 2:15 p.m. and repeatedly knocked on the door. Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem arrived on scene to see what all the commotion was about – the home is in his ward. Karriem was filled in by a Packet reporter and CPD Lt. Oscar Lewis. An unidentified female arrived on scene and let the team search the home around 2:35 p.m., but no suspects were found. Deputies were cautious as they entered, due to the fact that two pit bulls were guarding the home and several other animals could be heard inside.
Just as deputies were exiting the residence, two patrol cars pulled up carrying the same three black males from the Highway 69 traffic stop. One suspect, identified by neighbors as 17-yr-old Demarvis Hill, was placed into custody and put in a deputy’s car beside another unidentified suspect. The third suspect, Travis “Bam” Thomas, was placed in a vehicle by himself. Authorities confiscated an empty wallet that matched the description of the mailman’s wallet from one of the young men. All three were taken into custody around 3:01 p.m.
Authorities held a press conference at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to brief the media on the situation. US Postal Inspector Susan Link declined to share much information about the actual incident, but did announce that the main suspect was still at large and that the Postal Service was offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Shortly after the press conference, the three males detained earlier that afternoon were released without being charged.
According to sources, information poured into investigators after the reward was announced, and the most concrete tips led to a raid of an apartment Friday afternoon. With a search warrant in hand, deputies swarmed an apartment at 677 Yorkville Rd. and arrested the prime suspect, 17-year-old Arthur Lee “Slim” Whitfield, shortly after 2 p.m. Whitfield surrendered without incident and was taken to Lowndes County Adult Detention Center for processing. Authorities confirmed Wednesday that the gun that was believed to have been used in the robbery was in the apartment. Whitfield is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and neighbors said he has been living in Columbus for about three months.
Whitfield was held in LCADC throughout he weekend until his appearance in front of Judge Peggy Phillips in justice court Monday afternoon. At that hearing, he was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Weapon to Produce Death and Armed Robbery and bond was set at $500,000. His next court appearance will be August 19 in circuit court. Several sources name Whitfield as a cousin of one of the three initial suspects detained Thursday.
Aldridge stayed in the critical care unit at BMH-GT through the weekend before being moved to a regular room Monday. Aldridge was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. Friends of Aldridge said that he has been with the postal service as a rural mail carrier for about 15 years. Before that, he primarily farmed with his father, Bule. He is a graduate of Caledonia High and Mississippi State. The Aldridge family said Doug did not want to talk to the media until after this weekend, in fear that he might jinx his son Tyler, a standout baseball player at Delta State University who is in the middle of a record-breaking hitting streak.
Tyler Aldridge, a graduate of Caledonia High himself, transferred to DSU from EMCC and is currently batting .433 with 26 RBI and 24 runs in just 26 games. He is the team leader in nearly every offensive category and is currently tied for the school-record long hitting streak with 27 consecutive games. The senior will try and make his papa proud this Friday when DSU hosts the University of West Alabama Tigers. Doug Aldridge follows all of Tyler’s games online, even while recovering from a gunshot wound.