Ronald Westbrook had walked about three miles in sub-freezing temperatures, then knocked on 34-year-old Joe Hendrix’s door just before 4 a.m. Wednesday, authorities said.
Hendrix then went into the backyard of the home he rented in the Chickamauga area, confronted Westbrook and fired his handgun four times at the man, sheriff’s officials said. No charges have been filed.
An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab in Atlanta, Walker County Coroner W. Dewayne Wilson said Friday in a statement to The Associated Press.
The Walker County Sheriff’s Office requested that the GBI assist in the investigation, Sherry Lang, spokeswoman for the state agency, told the AP Friday. GBI agents helped to process the scene and are conducting interviews, she said.
Westbrook was lost and confused in the pre-dawn darkness Wednesday, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson told reporters at a Wednesday news conference. Dressed in a light jacket and wearing a straw hat, he had wandered for about four hours in the night with his two dogs in wind-chill temperature of around 20 degrees, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
“This one house at the end of the cul-de-sac had a porch light on,” Wilson said. “I tend to think (Westbrook) was drawn to that light.”
Hendrix’s fiancée didn’t answer when Westbrook was at the front door, instead calling police. But before deputies arrived, Hendrix went into the backyard and saw Westbrook in silhouette, the sheriff said.
Hendrix told investigators he gave Westbrook several verbal commands, but the man — who had advanced Alzheimer’s — didn’t respond, Wilson said. Westbrook “continued walking toward him after he told him to stop,” the sheriff told reporters at a Wednesday news conference.
Hendrix then fired the four shots, the fatal bullet entering Westbrook’s chest, Wilson said.
“There’s no doubt in our mind that Mr. Hendrix and his fiancée felt threatened,” the sheriff told reporters.
However, the sheriff also expressed his view that Hendrix should not have left the house as his fiancée stayed on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, who had sent two sheriff’s patrol cars to the residence.
“I believe that he should have stayed inside the home,” Wilson said.
“Did he violate any laws by exiting the home? No, none that we know of,’” the sheriff added.