For five days the family and friends of Jordan White prepared themselves for their final earthly goodbyes.
There were services to arrange, details to be sorted through and, yes, the medical process of reclaiming this precious young woman’s physical strength and healthy infrastructure so that it could be transplanted and shared with at least a half dozen others. Fellow human souls whose time among us would be greatly diminished were it not for her decision to share with them that for which Heaven has no need.
Among them, a 12-year-old girl, who will carry Jordan’s heart for as long as the good Lord will allow her.
The giving spirit and charitable heart of this amazing 19-year-old will live on in so many ways, as will the sad lessons of her needless death. While there will be a time and place to discuss the details, the consequences and the aftermath of the tragic night of September 12, we sadly have an immediate reminder of bureaucratic shortfalls that mean additional weeks, if not months, of unnecessary pain and uncertainty as we wait for concrete answers.
The men and women who witnessed the accident, bystanders and first responders who fought to save Jordan’s life, and the lives of her two passengers, put forth an amazing effort, risking their own well being fighting twisted metal, broken glass and a road slick with spilled gasoline.
Seconds count in such a situation and no human effort is spared or withheld in the process. How ironic that once the threat posed by jagged metal and flammables has passed, the search for final truth and ultimate justice slows to a grinding halt.
A day after her death, Jordan’s family was told it could be six weeks to two months before final scientific tests are completed that could very likely lead to vehicular homicide charges filed against the Evans man who they believed ignored a red light and plowed his truck directly into the car door that could do little to protect the young driver on the other side.
The injuries suffered by 43-year-old Lucky Wade Jackson were minuscule compared to the permanent damage inflicted by his truck’s front end. He was up and out of the hospital in no time and, as far as I know, back in his fashionable Riverwood Plantation home before his alleged victim was pronounced dead.
As this column was being written, I got word that Columbia County authorities had reconsidered the evidence gathered at the scene and testimony from witnesses. Instead of waiting for the Georgia State Crime Lab to return the results of the mandated legal blood alcohol test given to Jackson the night of the crash, they plan to arrest him within the next 24 hours.
It seemed inconceivable that Jackson would have only been charged with failure to stop for a signal in the aftermath of the accident, but the officers at the scene were following the rulebook, based on the evidence they knew they had at the time. It was only after careful reconsideration (and I would be willing to bet a good bit of public outcry) that they apparently decided to move forward with more serious charges involving the suspected DUI case they expect to bring.
Sources close to the case say Jackson’s blood alcohol, when tested at the hospital, was almost three times the legal limit. If that accusation is borne out in the state-tested blood sample, the 20-year Georgia Power employee could be looking at 15 years in prison.
So why is it going to take six weeks to get that sample analyzed? Thanks to severe manpower shortages, the crime lab has a backlog of such tests to run, and Jackson’s sample is sitting at the bottom of the pile.
The words “frustration” and “outrage” in such a situation are simply inadequate. This is a story I have been hearing about the Georgia State Crime Lab for years. So many years, in fact, that the two guys who first brought it to my attention, former Richmond County Coroner Leroy Sims and former Columbia County Coroner Tommy King, have themselves been dead eight and six years respectively.
But it is not only violent deaths where we see mysteries prolonged and families tortured needlessly; hundreds of local cases involving natural, unexplained deaths also take weeks and months to settle, often because of the same backlog. In just a few short years, I have seen this firsthand with the sudden deaths of my childhood best friend Bobby and my cherished cousin Christi. In both cases it was almost eight weeks before final reports were prepared for the family. These were reports, by the way, which could have been prepared in a matter of hours if there had been staff to do the job.
We have a solution. Augusta has a fully equipped, state-of-the-art autopsy and crime lab, built by the GBI adjacent to the jail on Phinizy Road. Thanks to budget cutbacks, there are very few personnel there to do any work.
If the Augusta Judicial Circuit could invest about 300k a year to cover the salaries of several technicians, we could process most important local cases in 24 hours, and then tackle the backlog to help other jurisdictions.
It can’t be done immediately, but it can be done. Rarely can it be said that a few hundred grand a year can fix such a serious problem, but this time, we can say it and mean it.
All the Jordan Whites of the world deserve it, and justice most certainly demands it.
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