Rains roll over relay
• Awards presentation, drawings rescheduled due to weather
By Joyce Beverly
Joyce Beverly may be reached at
It wasn't like any other Relay.
In fact, it was the Relay that wasn't.
Despite the threat of severe weather, 140 survivors heroically made the circle at the walking track in Wrens following opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. on Friday, and 18 teams paraded once around the track, but few others completed a lap that night.
It was still like a homecoming, and fun while it lasted, but grief at Jefferson County's eighth annual Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, was as heavy as the dark clouds that brought in rain, wind and even some hail, pounding a record 1,600 luminaries flat.
By 9 p.m. the rest of Friday's events were cancelled. Plans were made to resume walking at 9 a.m. on Saturday but when organizers woke to rain and the prospect of more storms the next day, they called the whole thing off.
Funeral services for Betty Sue Walden, a vice president at First State Bank who lost a battle with cancer on Wednesday morning, were just concluding Friday when an 18-year-old Jefferson County High School student was critically injured in an automobile accident as he left the school's campus. As the sun set and rain began to fall, word reached the walking track that he had not survived.
Earlier in the week, funeral services had been held for Mattie Eudy, cancer patient and mother of a former Relay team captain.
"What we missed out on was the fun part," Doug O'Steen, co-chairman of the Relay, said earlier this week. "The important stuff was already done."
O'Steen confirmed that the county has raised funds exceeding $100,000 for the fourth consecutive year. A final total will be released at an upcoming awards ceremony. Team captains were expected to schedule this event at a meeting on Tuesday.
O'Steen did say he expects the final figure will be under what has been raised in the past.
"This has been a different kind of year," O'Steen said. "Relays across the country are down as a whole."
Two teams were unable to return this year. A&M Products, whose team walked last year in spite of a looming plant closing, was not back and Jefferson Hospital's team took a break this year.
Of course, terrorism and the economy were no help, either.
Karen Walden, O'Steen's partner in organizing the event, said Saturday that she, too, expects the totals to be off in spite of all the teams' hard work, but that she is "thrilled" with what is happening in the county.
"The unity of those teams is such now that I don't care if they raise $30,000," Walden said. "They give it their all and it blesses the socks off of me to see us come together like this. It is a miracle."
Walden organized workers at the track just after 2 p.m. on Friday to form an honor guard less than a hundred yards away at Wrens Baptist Church for Betty Sue Walden's funeral procession. Relay volunteers, hands over their hearts, lined either side of the drive for the hearse and family in salute of a fallen fellow warrior.
"Our hearts were over there with the family but we knew we had to be here doing what we were doing," Walden said.
The two women were probably distant relatives, by marriage at least, but have been sisters in their fight against cancer.
Karen first walked in the Relay in 1996. The next year she became more involved in the event when she lost a "real" sister to pancreatic cancer.
Betty Sue was a member of one of only two teams at the county's first Relay in 1995, when walkers raised $6,000. She was back on the track in '96, when $35,000 was raised, in '97 when residents scraped up $63,000, in '98 when the county broke the $100,000 mark, and in '99 when a staggering $144,500 was raised, propelling the county to the number two spot in the nation for per capita giving among communities of similar size.
Two months later, in July, 1999, diagnosed with melanoma, she made the transition from volunteer to survivor.
"We lined up to be a part of that, to support her family," Karen said. "She fought with us, she supported us, and we wanted them to know that we are still continuing the fight. We may lose folks but we're still fighting."
Walden said it is exciting to see people become more free-hearted as they get involved in this cause.
"That's the way we're supposed to be," she said. "All those friends that we have lost didn't take a thing with them except part of our hearts."
Both O'Steen and Walden praised the Relay teams and support group for making their jobs easy.
"They know what they're doing and they go out and do it," Walden said. "We just watch it all fall together... and the more hardships we endure, the easier the Relay gets. Life is so hard, that doing that is the easy part."
Competitiveness has been overtaken by unity and compassion, Walden also noted.
"Without love, why do anything?" she asked.
A turning point in the life of the Relay took place last year, Walden believes, when on the Wednesday prior to the event a county-wide prayer meeting was held at Wrens Baptist Church for survivors, caregivers, and families of those who've lost their fight. Following the service, Ben Martin, former pastor of Wrens United Methodist Church, led many in walking the track in prayer for all who would follow in their footsteps that weekend.
Since then, a small group has met weekly to pray about the blight of cancer and other spiritual oppressions in this county, Walden said.
This year, a 36-hour prayer vigil was organized by Matthews resident Thana Rabun prior to the Relay.
"I have longed for that," Walden said, "to pull the spiritual and secular together in this. We've got to have doctors and research but we want to be clear that God is included up front as the healer."
Two "youngest survivors" from previous Relays, Heather Lambert and Colvin Smith, were a testament to that on Friday.
"They were finally big enough to carry the banner," Walden said.
During the survivors walk, as supporters lined the track to cheer on those little ones and 140 others, a stricken Wrens resident rushed up to Walden with the news that he had just learned his son has liver cancer.
"Every wall comes down," Walden said, "every dividing faction comes down when it comes to cancer."
When pelting rain washed away all hope for a luminary service, and news reached the track that the JCHS student had died as a result of the accident earlier, no one was upset about canceling the relay, Walden said.
"We're a hurting county and we were grieving," Walden said.
"God knew we needed the rain. This is a dry and thirsty land in more than one way."
The total of funds raised in this year's event will be released at an upcoming awards night. Team captains were expected to schedule this event at a meeting on Tuesday.
Tennille man drowns in Ogeechee
• Friend said Samuel Grant Jr. fell off of a log and went under
By Ben Nelms
Tragedy struck unexpectedly late Friday afternoon along the banks of the Ogeechee River at SR 88. Tennille resident Samuel Grant, Jr. drowned while swimming with a friend on the south side of the bridge that forms the border of Jefferson and Washington counties.
The incident occurred at approximately 4:30 p.m. when 21 year-old Grant and friend Zackie Canty had climbed out onto the river on a fallen tree, according to a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Canty told investigators Grant fell off the tree and into the water. He said Grant went underwater once and tried to reach the tree after resurfacing.
Canty said he tried unsuccessfully to secure a hold on Grant. He reported seeing only air bubbles after Grant went down for the second time.
A woman and two girls had been fishing nearby when the incident occurred. One of the girls had joined Grant and Canty to go swimming.
No one at the site had a cell phone so the group went to Davisboro in an attempt to contact Grant's father by phone. Having no success, the group went to Tennille to report the incident to the Sheriff.
Personnel from a variety of agencies in three counties converged on the scene, conducting the search as lightning and wind from lines of strong thunderstorms moved overhead.
Members of the Washington County dive team searched the river at the point where Grant had reportedly gone down as well as areas downstream.
Grant was located at approximately 8:45 p.m., within approximately five feet of the place he initially went under water.
The body was caught on the river bottom at a depth of eight to ten feet and was discovered when one of the divers became tangled in debris and was being freed by two others.
Grant and Canty had reportedly obtained beer prior to arriving at the river.
An autopsy performed at the state crime lab determined that the death resulted from natural causes due to accidental drowning.
Searchers and rescue personnel included deputies and investigators from Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Rural Metro ambulance, Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources agents, dive teams from Washington and McDuffie counties, Louisville Fire Dept., Washington County Sheriff's deputies and EMT units.
Accident fatal for high school junior
• Hundreds attend funeral service at JCHS gymnasium
By Parish Howard
Several hundred friends, teachers, fellow students and family members gathered in the Jefferson County High School gymnasium Monday afternoon to say goodbye to Bryan Matthew Arrington, an 18-year-old junior who died Friday night from injuries sustained in an accident that ocurred while leaving the school earlier that afternoon.
"I see your faces as you get into cars or on the buses with your friends. You are so young and full of life and have no fear of all the things that could go wrong and take you away from us," Principal Molly Howard told the crowd who filled the bleachers and chairs in front of the stage. "I do not try to understand why Matthew, a child of God, died at the gates of our school. I do not try to make sense of it. My faith assures me that the reasons are not for me to know, but to accept."
According to police reports, around 3:45 Friday afternoon, less than an hour after school let out, Arrington either overlooked or misjudged the distance between the intersection of Warrior Trail and U.S. Highway One and pulled his 1993 Plymouth Laser out into the path of oncoming traffic.
A white 1998 Ford Expedition driven by Louisville resident Laura Wheeler, collided with his driver's side door.
Wheeler suffered a broken knee in the accident.
No charges were filed.
Funeral services were held Monday afternoon in the school's gymnasium.
School officials have estimated between 800 and 1,000 people attended the service.
Earlier Monday morning friends and family and fellow students met by the side of the road, at the intersection where the accident occured to light candles, lay flowers and pray.
Throughout the day counselors were on hand to talk to students.
School let out early and the services began at 4 p.m.
Honorary pallbearers were fellow students from Arrington's Auto Body Shop Class.
Arrington's cousin, Tony Arrington, the teacher of the autobody class called roll.
"To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord," he said.
Other portions of the service involved a poem read by a fellow member of Arrington's junior class, a performance by the school's choir and a slide show of pictures taken throughout his life.
The Revs. Allen Weaver and Marlin Scarboro officiated.
In response to the accident, some parents and students have been signing a petition seeking to have a stop light installed at the intersection.
"I'm not a safety engineer and I don't know what it will take to make the intersection at the gates of our school the safest it can be," Howard said. "Someone certainly needs to look at it and tell us what can and should be done."