Last week, Erica Masters of Martinez, Georgia woke up to a stranger entering her bedroom.
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Concerned about trespassers on her property, Masters had installed surveillance cameras inside and outside her home — and they were rolling during the incident.
The man who entered her home, Jimmy Vowell, was not a burglar but a Columbia County code enforcer sent to the house to investigate multiple complaints about noise and an overgrown lawn.
According to Vowell, he arrived at the house close to noon and knocked on the front door. Masters told NBC’s Thanh Truong that she heard the knock but “wasn’t quite sure if it was in my dream or if I had actually heard something." The cameras caught Vowell first at the front door, then checking the back door in the car port. Eventually he returned to the front door and when he knocked it swung open.Video: Woman wakes to county worker standing in her room (on this page)
According to Masters, her roommate had left the door unlocked that day.
Vowell, who can be seen in the videos entering the house and making his way down the hallway, told NBC the house had such a stench he was concerned he was going to find a corpse. “The interior was deplorable, there was a stench or smell that reeked," he said. "I was concerned that somebody was actually either dead or dying or seriously injured inside of that residence.”
He claimed that when he knocked on her bedroom door it opened. Vowells said he announced “Columbia County code enforcement” as he entered, and that all he could see was a silhouette of a body under a blue blanket. “No feet, no head, no hands, no nothing,” he said.
Scared and now awake, Masters said the first thing she said was, “What’s going on?” and “What are you doing here? Get out!”
Masters got dressed and met Vowell in the living room, where she signed the violation notice. However, she was so rattled by the incident she filed a complaint with the county.
"We are allowed expectations of privacy and safety within our own home," she told TODAY. "And both of those just kind of went out the window as soon as this guy showed up at my house."
The county investigated after Masters filed the complaint. According to the Sheriff’s report, Vowell had initially told his boss that he didn’t enter the house but later changed his story and said he had gone inside to make sure the person inside was OK. “I was concerned for the health and well-being of anybody that may be in that residence," he told TODAY.
Vowell was fired for breaking the county policy on entering private homes without permission and making false statements to a supervisor. As the investigation found that he had no criminal intent, he will not be criminally charged.
Since Vowell's visit, Masters said, she doesn’t feel safe in her home. She has plans to sue the county for damages, while Vowell says he’ll appeal his firing.
"He's very, very lucky I wasn’t armed at the time," Masters said. "Nobody could prosecute me if I had shot him that day.”
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