|Birth: ||May 31, 1985|
|Death: ||Feb. 9, 2003|
Matthew W. Lane 17 years old. Matt was killed in a car accident at the corner of Highway 78 and Rockdale Circle in Snellville, GA
LAWRENCEVILLE — Irony is a strange thing.
It was ironic that the life of 17-year-old Matthew Lane, the son of a Gwinnett Police officer who worked fatal accidents on the accident investigation unit, should be taken in a horrendous car crash. It was ironic that of the Lane family's three boys, Matthew was the one who didn't drive.
But more than that, it was tragic that a life so full of promise was halted inexplicably.
When Matthew and his girlfriend Mandy Anderson, 18, were on their way home from South Gwinnett High School on Feb. 7, they had little reason to suspect that the night would end disastrously. They had just spent the evening at a Senior Night basketball game.
Lane was a sports fan and enjoyed going to the basketball games. He was a member of the "Comet Crazies," who get the crowd pumped up by cheering and painting their faces. Lane, a senior, planned to attend the University of Georgia and then become a high school teacher and football coach.
Matthew's twin brother Dan was driving a few cars behind them when the couple's car approached the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Rockdale Circle.
Two other South Gwinnett students who were coming from the Loganville area were also on the road that night. Police believe Paul Copeland, 17, and Stephen Carter, 18, were racing a truck and a 1993 Mazda MX6 westbound on U.S. 78 when Copeland's truck slammed into Anderson's silver Honda Civic. The Civic slid across the roadway and struck a gray Honda Civic.
Dan Lane drove up on the crash site moments later.
"I saw smoke and ran out to the car," said Dan Lane.
"We couldn't find him and then I saw him laying on the concrete."
Matt had suffered head trauma. He was breathing but unconscious. Dan raced home to get his mother, who was in bed with the flu, and arrived just as paramedics were treating Matt. Their father, Randy Lane was in Forsyth County at a police training seminar.
Matt was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center, where he underwent surgery that night for a skull fracture.
While the family waited for news at the hospital, more and more people continued to show up for support, mother Diana Lane said. Students, coaches, the principal and parents all flocked to the hospital.
"When they moved him up to ICU for surgery, there were 75 kids on hands and knees praying," she said.
On the following evening, Saturday, between 150 to 200 teenagers, parents and friends gathered in the sanctuary at Snellville First United Methodist to pray and support the family. Things had looked good for a little while after Matt's surgery, but he suffered a series of strokes late that Saturday and died at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, his mother said.
A community grieves
On that Sunday morning, about 300 people gathered in the gym at South Gwinnett High School for prayer, and by Sunday evening almost 1,000 people had gathered again at the Snellville United Methodist Church to pray for and support the Lane family. Matt's death ripped a hole in the community, according to his mother.
"Nobody deserves to die, but my child was probably the most popular kid in the entire South Gwinnett High School senior class," Diana Lane said.
Since his death, the Lane family has survived by remembering Matt and keeping his name alive, she said. Diana Lane moved from being a Kroger store manager to work their corporate office. Randy Lane transferred from the accident investigation unit and became a lieutenant at the Gwinnett Police southside precinct. Because of his son's death, Randy was no longer able to handle working fatal crashes, Diana said.
Matt's twin brother Dan plans to become a firefighter and has dealt with his twin's loss with the help of good friends, he said. Matt's 22-year-old brother Andy is a firefighter in the U.S. Navy.
"You can either roll over and die or you can make a choice to move forward and to not let him kill the rest of us," Diana Lane said.
A mantra for Matt, the word "believe" has become his legacy. Students at basketball and football games and at South Gwinnett's spring graduation chanted "believe" in Matt's honor, Diana Lane said.
Diana now wears a bracelet that Matthew once sported with the faith-inspiring word on it and makes them for others. The bracelets are sold for $3 to benefit juvenile diabetes research and the non-profit company Fear This, a program that teaches teens driving safety.
The bracelets are also sold at Classy Nails on U.S. Highway 78 in Snellville. The family also sells bumper stickers and T-shirts emblazoned with "Believe."
Fear This has set up a scholarship in Lane's name to pay for teens to take a day-long educational road course. The Lane family hopes that Matt's death will help teens understand that they need to slow down behind the wheel.
"We'll just be glad for everybody to not forget him," Diana said. "They will eventually, but not yet."
A court battle looms
Although they have come so far, there are still some difficult hurdles left for the Lanes. Copeland and Carter were indicted last month for first-degree vehicular homicide. Carter was also indicted for hit-and-run because he allegedly failed to stop at the scene.
Copeland and Carter are scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 16 and their trial before Judge Deborah Turner will not take place until next year, according to Chief Assistant District Attorney Phil Wiley. Because the accident happened at a busy intersection at a busy time, there are 11 to 15 witnesses, Wiley said. If convicted, Copeland faces a maximum of 15 years and Carter faces up to 20 years in prison.
The family declined to comment about the pending case, but they are bracing for a court battle.
"There will be plenty of time to talk about the case once it's over," Diana said.
Snellville Historical Cemetery
Maintained by: Dawn Underwood Paulson
Originally Created by: James Garmon
Record added: Apr 20, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14010747