A $150 aluminum road sign wouldn’t mean much to most people.
But when you’ve lost nearlyeverything, little things can mean a lot.
And so it is with Falleen Randle, who is fighting to have a DUI Victim Memorial road sign erected in honor of the son, daughter and infant grandson who were killed five years ago in one of the deadliest wrecks ever to occur on I-85 in northeast Georgia.
The same wreck killed the limo driver who was ferrying the family home from the airport after they returned from a relative’s wedding in Utah. Falleen Randle’s husband, Demetrius, also suffered a debilitating brain injury because of the crash.
Randle, who has since relocated from Lawrenceville to California with Demetrius and their sole surviving child, Chris, 25, hoped to see the sign when they returned this week to commemmorate the five-year anniversary of the wreck. Demetrius Randle has made significant strides since he nearly died from the head trauma. He can now walk by steadying himself with walls and furniture, and he talks more clearly.
“I’m all back together,” he said proudly Thursday, seated beside his wife and son at a relative’s home in Buford.
However, approval for the sign is hung up. Certain eligibility requirements threaten to delay if not derail its installation.
“I just wanted to finish this by letting my kids have this one thing,” an exasperated Randle said. “To us, it would be one win. Something that actually happened in our favor. But I feel like I’ve had to fight for everything.”
At issue is a 2004 state law that authorizes signs to be posted in honor of DUI fatalities. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council reviews applications. If approved, the state Department of Transportation erects the sign, which lists the name of the victim and date of the crash.
One eligibility requirement for the sign is that the driver who caused the wreck must have violated the state’s drunken driving law.
Randle applied for the sign in September and was denied within weeks because the Gainesville man who caused the four-fatality wreck on March 31, 2008, was not convicted of a DUI.
Carmon Cody Rhoden, 25, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to serious injury by vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident and four counts of vehicular homicide. Witnesses said Rhoden had been drinking beer at the Braves home opener earlier that day, according to Gwinnett County prosecutor Tracie Cason. He was speeding and weaving between lanes when his vehicle clipped the limousine the Randles were riding in on I-85 North at Indian Trail Lilburn Road.
Rhoden was not convicted of drunken driving because he fled the scene and waited a day to turn himself in, Cason said.
Given the circumstances, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office and the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Georgia have both contacted the CJCC and urged them to reconsider.
“The memorial sign would be a small token of remembrance – an honor to this family and what they have experienced,” said Cason, who sent a letter to the CJCC on March 11.
CJCC’s executive director, Braxton Cotton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that any exception to the law must be approved by an appeal board that doesn’t meet again until June.
“I understand we’re coming up on the anniversary and I understand all those dynamics,” Cotton said.
Falleen Randle said Cotton and an entourage from CJCC sought her out at a MADD luncheon in College Park on Thursday to assauge her concerns and urge her to file the appeal.
Regardless of the outcome, Falleen, Demetrius and Chris Randle say they will gather with loved ones Sunday evening at the Indian Trail Road Park-and-Ride lot for a vigil to honor 14-year-old Alexander, 21-year-old Whitney, and her 13-month-old son, Kayden.
“That’s what it’s about is letting everybody know we haven’t forgotten, and we won’t forget,” Randle said.
About the DUI Memorial Fund
The next of kin to victims of vehicular homicide caused by someone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol may request that the Department of Transportation place a memorial sign at the crash site. The next of kin must submit an application to the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program. If the claim is deemed eligible the Department of Transportation will produce and erect the sign. The state approved five of the 10 applications received for the signs last year, denying 4 that did not meet eligibility requirements and putting on hold one application that was incomplete.
To be eligible, the vehicular homicide must have occurred in Georgia on a state highway. There must be a charge of vehicular homicide caused by a violation of O.C.G.A. 40-6-391 (DUI statute). And the crime must have occurred on or after May 13, 2004.