STONE MOUNTAIN - Austin Huseby went to great lengths to be with Alexander Randle. Last winter, the teen fibbed to her parents, inventing after-school detentions she never had to serve, and after dismissal she walked with her new beau, Randle, through misty afternoons to a McDonald's near Peachtree Ridge High School.
She was buying time with the first-chair violinist and amateur poet who'd swept her off her feet, she said. It was a curious ploy. But each moment, cloaked in the magic of teenage whim, was worth it.
"He said he would never forget this day, walking in the rain with me," said Huseby, also a freshman at Peachtree Ridge. "He was the most loving person I ever met - always wanted to keep me safe."
Huseby joined hundreds of mourners Tuesday afternoon in a Stone Mountain church who paid last respects to the 14-year-old Randle, his sister Whitney Randle, 21, and her infant son Kayden. The three, who were cremated, died March 31 in a Interstate 85 crash that triggered an extensive police investigation and resulted in a Gainesville man's arrest.
Police have called the quadruple fatality - which also killed the Randles' hired driver, Mark Anthony Gay of Lawrenceville - the deadliest single crash on I-85 in Gwinnett.
Black-clad mourners showed a range of emotions, from outright weeping to hand-clapping praise, during the hour-long funeral in the cavernous Voices of Faith Baptist Church. Molly Dubach-Preston, who lost two of her grandchildren and her great-grandchild in the crash, flew in from California to promote forgiveness.
"I want the young man driving that car to know that this family forgives him," said Dubach-Preston, who called the five-car accident "a date with destiny."
In his uplifting eulogy, Bishop Gary Hawkins Sr. urged parishioners and the Randles' extended family and friends to swap anger for unconditional support of the survivors.
"The worst thing to do right now is hate the person that caused the accident," Hawkins said.
Thus far, police have been less forgiving.
A preliminary accident diagram released last week shows that Carmon Cody Rhoden, 20, of Gainesville, allegedly caused the accident while driving erratically in his red Acura RSX, according to Gwinnett police.
Rhoden is charged with four counts of vehicular homicide and felony hit and run, among other charges. He remained in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond Tuesday. His probable cause hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Rhoden, an automotive technician, allegedly fled the crash scene and dumped his battered Acura at a nearby hotel. He turned himself in a day after the crash when police secured warrants for his arrest.
Funeral services were held Saturday for Gay, the man driving the 2003 Ford Excursion that carried the Randle family, in the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert.
Although five others were injured, only Demetrius Randle - the father of two killed and grandfather of one - remains hospitalized. He was listed in critical condition with head injuries Tuesday at Gwinnett Medical Center.
His wife, Falleen Randle, asked the congregation to pray for her husband's full recovery. She called her grandchild, Kayden, an unexpected blessing, and Alexander Randle a charismatic, witty young man "with a dutifulness to other people," she said.
Falleen Randle read a poem written to her daughter, preserved in a scrapbook, called "My Wish For You." The family uprooted from Salt Lake City to metro Atlanta in 1999.
"You are a woman equal to all men," she said of Whitney Randle, a licensed medical assistant. "I have loved you every second of your life."