By JANIE HARRIS
Sports Editor, Interim EIC
On Sunday, Feb. 22 at approximately 7:30 p.m., 911 operators received a call from suspect Anthony Giaquinta’s 16-year-old daughter about a domestic dispute occurring in her home in Clarkesville, just a 15-minute car ride from Piedmont’s campus, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or GBI.
That night, according to Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, Habersham County residents learned an important lesson: tragedy can strike anywhere.
Residents began to realize that domestic violence continues to be an issue that this community struggles with, according to Stephanie Tolbert, the assistant director of Circle of Hope, a local domestic violence agency dedicated to the education and support of domestic violence victims.
According to the GBI, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Department responded to the call, and upon arriving at the subdivision of the home that the call was about, officers encountered a black Crown Victoria speeding towards them. When the officers turned onto the road, the Crown Victoria veered off the road and spun out in a yard less than a quarter mile from the residence.
Giaquinta, a former law enforcement officer in both Habersham and Gainesville, emerged from the Crown Victoria and ran into the wooded area near where the vehicle stopped. Officers searched the area briefly, but they stopped to locate the daughter and her boyfriend who had fled from the home.
After confirming she was alright, Terrell, Deputy Bill Zigen and a third deputy went back to the residence. Upon entering the home’s garage, the officers found Kathy Giaqunita Smith, Giaquinta’s ex-wife, deceased on the garage floor.
While Zigen was fired on by Giaquinta, who had taken a position in the woods, Zigen was hit twice.
He crawled to cover in the garage, where Terrell and the other deputy were arriving due to the commotion. Giaquinta maneuvered his way to the side of the garage where he shot Terrell in the right arm. The third deputy began firing, and the three officers evacuated the scene to safety.
After reinforcements were called in and a perimeter around the home was set, law enforcement determined Giaquinta was not in the home, and they began to search the area.
They found his body in the backyard of the residence.
The GBI believes that Giaquinta died from law-enforcement fire, but an official report will be released in the next few weeks.
Law enforcement also located the third body of the night—Flowery Brach resident Steven Singleton, a man who had a close relationship with Smith—not long after Giaquinta’s body was found. They believe Singleton was deceased before officers arrived at the scene.
The GBI reported that this was not the first time Giaquinta was involved with domestic violence.
Terrell said, “It [this situation] was a combination of a lot of things that happened over time.”
Charges against Giaquinta were only filed once on June 13, 2013. However, many in the community report that this was not the only time Giaquinta was violent with his ex-wife. This falls into a national statistic that says 70 percent of victims do not file criminal charges in domestic violence cases, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
These charges against Giaquinta resulted in his termination from law enforcement. But the charges never held up in a court of law, so he was allowed to keep his fire arms.
This incident is just one of many that have occurred in Habersham County. Terrell reports that in this county, his department frequently responds to domestic violence calls.
Tolbert explained that in the United States one out of every four women and one out of every six men are or have been victims of domestic violence, and Circle of Hope, which serves Habersham, Stephens and White Counties, received over 1,000 crisis calls last year alone.
“I wish we could prevent this from happening again,” said Terrell. “But, it is hard to break that cycle.”
According to the World Health Organization, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner globally, which is why Circle of Hope is so interested in getting the word out to those in the community. The group understands this is a tragic time, but they will try to use this situation for good.
“We try to use this as an opportunity to educate the community,” said Tolbert.