A prankster with a water balloon interrupted an anti-tax "tea party" at East Lake Park on Saturday afternoon.
The man doused a WGOW Talk Radio crew with one of the balloons, then was chased down and corralled at a nearby church.
Bobby Petty, president of the Greater East Lake Community Council that sponsored the event, said he saw the man wearing a bandanna at the back of the crowd for about an hour before the sudden attack.
He said when emcee John Wolfe told the crowd that County Commissioner John Brooks should be coming out to East Lake helping residents pay the higher tax that he helped pass, the man lowered the bandanna over his face. He then started running toward the Talk Radio crew.
He dropped one water balloon next to Greater East Lake Community Council Vice President Rachel Holloway, as he shouted, "Those loud-mouth SOBs," Mr. Petty said.
He said the man later told those in the group that he is the stepson of Commissioner Brooks. He gave his name as John "Trey" Chenkus - a barber at the White Oak Barber Shop.
Mr. Petty said the water balloon zipped by the head of former County Commissioner Lou Miller and nailed the WGOW crew as well as soaking the broadcasting equipment. Those at the event include Mr. Wolfe and fellow emcees Robert T. Nash, Tim Price and Carnell Storie. "They were pretty wet," Mr. Petty said. Mr. Nash said he had already gotten into his car when the prankster hit.
Mr. Petty said the man began hightailing it off, and an angry Mr. Nash followed in his car and a mad Mr. Price jumped in his truck in hot pursuit. Mr. Nash said Mr. Price did not join in the chase.
The chase led to a nearby church, where the pursuers were able to hem the prankster in, Mr. Petty said.
He said Shane Langford, a one-time county deputy sheriff, got a grip on him first. One angry East Lake resident punched the prankster in the face.
Mr. Storie, who said the water from the balloon splattered on the station's Talk Monster truck, said he was the one who led the chase.
Mr. Storie said, The ballonabomber was fast but short on breath. After several blocks he gave out behind a church. A Green Party attendee passed me and was second on the scene. An African-American woman was there first. An unidentified East Lake resident showed up next, quite angry
and shouting because he was recently burglarized. Mr. Langford showed up on his motor cycle with WGOW's Rob Kilakas and Robert T. Nash only seconds behind. John Wolfe came a moment or so later.
"The East Lake residents have been burglarized and vandalized continually for a while. When they saw an overweight, middle-aged white guy chasing another man with what appeared to be gang bandannas over his face, they assumed the worse.
"One resident yelled in the face of the tosser how he had five children and did not want them scared like this...ever."
One witness said several East Lake residents heard the commotion and ran out on their porches with guns drawn. "They thought a home invasion was about to happen," Mr. Petty said.
The man was led back down to where the event took place. During the two-hour program, three wooden boxes marked "Tea" were tossed into the duck pond at East Lake Park.
Mr. Petty said the prankster apologized and even agreed to sign a petition urging Mr. Wolfe to run for the state Senate.
But police were still called. "Five police cars showed up," Mr. Petty said.
The man was led away in handcuffs, but not before he got a tongue-lashing from activist Shirley Deakins.
Mr. Chenkus later issued this statement:
I want to apologize for my actions at the East Lake Park on Saturday afternoon. My actions were solely based on my feelings towards Tim Price and his recent attacks on a personal friend of mine and no one else at the event nor anyone involved in the community.
I in no way meant to alarm the residents of East Lake. This was a stupid decision on my part and now after the fact I want to apologize to everyone involved. I did not think about the consequences, but now realize there was obviously a more civil way to disagree with Mr. Price.
I want to apologize for wasting the time of the Chattanooga Police Department, and taking their eyes off the community for responding to my immature actions.
With sincere apologies,