A year since crash, family plans remembrance

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Randle family portrait from a year ago frames six ebullient faces. The same photo today would capture just three.

Nearing the one-year anniversary of what's been called the deadliest single interstate crash in Gwinnett's history, the family is looking back before resuming the grueling process of pushing forward.

Planned for March 31 - a year to the day - is the Randle Family Remembrance, a gathering of friends and family in a Lawrenceville chapel meant more as a celebration of life than a reminder of death.

"It's just going to be a couple hours of people sharing their thoughts, good times they had," said organizer Sulianna Chandler, whose sister, Falleen Randle, lost two children and a grandchild in the infamous chain-reaction crash.

The event should also help provide closure for Demetrius Randle, Falleen's husband, who was comatose from his injuries during an elaborate funeral for his family last April. A glitch in a video recording of that procession left the tape silent, so poems and stories shared that day have gone unheard by the recovering man, Chandler said.

The recording malfunction did little to calm nerves.

"We're all still having post-traumatic stress," Chandler said. "It's just too much for one family, you know."

As for Demetrius Randle, he continues treatment for brain-damage and heavy scarring at a hyperbaric treatment clinic in Malibu, Calif., where doctors pump his organs with saturated oxygen thought to curtail scarring and aide in brain restoration. It's a treatment not available in metro Atlanta, his wife said.

The couple have rented a place in nearby Tarzana, awaiting settlements from insurance companies and wrangling with depleted California health-care coffers. Doctors are treating Demetrius Randle on good faith they'll be paid when settlements are dispersed, his wife said.

The couple's sole remaining child, Christopher, plans to join his parents soon when he graduates Miles College in Alabama.

Demetrius Randle emerged from his coma last summer and is struggling to cope with the reality of his depleted family. He's beginning to take steps, with the aide of a walker.

"He's very aware of what happened," said Falleen Randle, on the phone from California, referring to the crash. "It's still very raw for him because he's behind in the grieving process."

Cody Rhoden, a 21-year-old automotive technician from Gainesville, is accused of triggering the wreck that killed Whitney Randle, 21, her infant son, Kayden, and her brother, Alexander Randle, 14, along with a hired driver, Mark Anthony Gay.

They were en route to the family's Lawrenceville home from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta when Rhoden allegedly clipped their Ford Excursion, causing it to flip twice.

An 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 crash. Police said he later ditched his damaged Acura RSX at a nearby hotel before turning himself in the next day.

Rhoden was indicted on 11 counts in June, including four counts of vehicular homicide. His case won't go to trial until early 2010, prosecutors say. He remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.

Falleen Randle feels the upcoming ceremony should focus not on the impending trial but on the unique, vibrant people that comprised her family.

"I feel obligated as their mother to do it the right way and include their daddy, because that's what he deserves," Randle said. "I don't know very many men who can handle it the way he is."

SideBar: If you go

What: Randle Family Remembrance

When: 6 to 8 p.m.

March 31

Where: Wages and Sons Funeral Home, 1031 U.S. Highway 29, Lawrenceville 30045

For more information: Visit the family's Web site, www.randlememorial.com or call the funeral home at 770-277-4550.