LAWRENCEVILLE - Quadruple vehicular homicide suspect Cody Rhoden - accused of triggering the deadliest interstate crash in Gwinnett's history nearly a year ago - was freed from the Gwinnett County Jail last month.
For about five hours.
Officials approved the Jan. 17 reprieve - the second in Rhoden's 10-month stay in jail - to allow the 21-year-old automotive technician from Gainesville to attend his mother's funeral. Rhoden's grandfather died in June.
During the temporary release, which was approved by Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, Rhoden's family paid for jail deputies to guard him, said Tracie Cason, the Assistant District Attorney overseeing his prosecution.
It could mark Rhoden's last brush with freedom for the foreseeable future. Cason said the case won't likely find its way to a trial calendar until 2010.
Judges twice denied Rhoden bond in 2008.
"We're looking at maybe next January for the trial," Cason said.
The Sheriff's Department routinely fields requests from family members to allow inmates to attend the funerals of close family. Department policy allows officials to evaluate those requests on a case-by-case basis.
Stacey Bourbonnais, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, said temporary releases are granted unless the freed inmate poses a high-security risk or other unusual circumstances. In each case, off-duty deputies guard the inmate at the family's expense, she said.
Rhoden, 21, is accused of killing four people - three Lawrenceville family members and their driver - March 31 while driving wildly to Gainesville on Interstate 85. He was indicted on 11 counts in June, including four counts each of vehicular homicide and failure to stop or return to the scene of an accident, one for each person who died.
The grand jury handed up two additional counts of serious injury by vehicle, alleging Rhoden recklessly threaded through traffic and caused Demetrius Randle - father to two of the victims and grandfather to one - to lose the use of his legs.
A Gwinnett police investigator testified last year that Rhoden had been drinking at an Atlanta Braves' game and sped home in excess of 100 mph when he caused the chain-reaction crash. Police said he later ditched his damaged Acura RSX at a nearby hotel before turning himself in the next day.
Rhoden's family and attorney have maintained his innocence, claiming his car was struck by the SUV carrying the family home from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Lawrenceville.