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Crew searches lake on Fortune Loop

Law enforcement officials were on hand in Swainsboro Tuesday afternoon, responding to the lake off Fortune Loop in hopes of recovering a piece of evidence in the Priscilla Riner Hooks case.

Emanuel County Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer, Agent Eugene Howard of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tripp Fitzner collaborated yesterday around 2 p.m. The agencies brought in another, a dive team from Burke County, for the purpose of locating a cell phone involved in the almost 3-year-old case.

Sheriff Brewer confirmed Tuesday around 5:30 the search was unsuccessful, however.

The search was prompted, according to the sheriff, as a result of a lead noted in a “pre-custodial” interview with Georgiana Stephens, a 33-year-old Swainsboro woman.

The Chronicle asked Sheriff Brewer in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon why this cell phone was of interest to the case, and he went on record, insisting a commitment to following up on every lead possible to its conclusion, including looking for evidence (like this device) that has yet to be discovered.

Sheriff Brewer went on to explain that Stephens, in that pre-custodial interview, stated Hooks discarded the phone into the lake off Fortune Loop prior to her death.

The sheriff requested the assistance of the dive team last week, and the group finally made it to Swainsboro Tuesday as they were already in route to another area to look for a missing man, Don Hightower of Johnson County.

Reportedly, the crew searched for more than two hours, yet the dive, although diligent, was void of results. Sheriff Brewer attributes this to a large portion of the lake’s frontage being covered heavily in vegetation. Because the divers searched all of the accessible areas, Sheriff Brewer does not anticipate their return.

He did, however, go on record Tuesday and state the case remains open and ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact his office at 478-237-7526.

Stephens was taken into custody Friday, January 28, 2022 and charged with concealing the death of another person, tampering with evidence, and making false statements, all which allegedly connect to Hooks’s death in 2019.

In a first appearance hearing the following Monday, the court did not address the matter of bond. However, The Honorable Robert S. Reeves granted her a conditional bond last week. Sheriff Brewer explained the granting on Wednesday did not come with a monetary value as conditional bonds allow defendants to be released on their own recognizance. Stephens is now back at the Dublin substance abuse center, the same location from which she was taken into custody on January 28.

Hooks was awaiting trial for murder and was found dead in a church cemetery in September 2019. The investigation has been ongoing by the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 12 Field Office since.

Her death was ruled a suicide after an autopsy was completed by the GBI Crime Lab in Pooler.

At the time of her death, Hooks was out on bond awaiting trial in connection with the shooting death of her ex-boyfriend Dustin Wilson. Orders from the judge in that case had her barred from Emanuel County except for court appearances. Her temporary residence had been in Bulloch County, where her vehicle and ankle monitor were found. From the beginning of the investigation, investigators did not believe she came to the cemetery on her own because no vehicles were found at the scene and no weapon was recovered.

Hooks was accused of killing her ex-boyfriend in June 2018. A grand jury indicted her on multiple charges, including malice murder, aggravated assault, felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, and four counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Her bond was set at $65,000 in July 2018.

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