The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia provides funds to GDOT to create and display the sign as a way of honoring victims who have died as a result of DUI crashes and drawing attention to the dangers of distracted driving, according to Katie Strayhorn with the Dawson County District Attorney’s Office.
“The DUI Memorial Sign program through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is a way for the survivors of DUI homicides to feel like their loved ones didn’t die in vain,” Strayhorn said. “Their lives meant something. And hopefully, by allowing their loved one’s names to serve as a reminder to the very real dangers and consequences of impaired driving, they can help prevent another family from the same pain.”
Working through the Dawson County District Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Program, Waters’ widow, Ida “Button” Waters, applied for and was approved for the memorial sign.
Waters said that if her husband had lived nine more days, the two would have been married for 31 years. She said the loss of her husband was devastating.
“I always thought that losing your mother would be the worst thing that could happen, but it doesn’t hold a candle to losing a spouse,” Waters said. “And I only had him 30 years, some people are married 50 and 60 years.”
Waters was present when the sign, tall and
metal with a bright blue background, was placed in the ground by a GDOT worker.
It reads “In memory of Jerry Waters, DUI victim, May 10, 2015.”
Waters said she wasn’t expecting such a beautiful, eye-catching sign.
“It really made my day,” she said. “The DOT and the district attorney's office did an outstanding job.”
Waters hopes the sign makes people think before getting behind the wheel impaired.
“Everyone I’ve talked to says this is the first [sign] they’ve seen like this, and I think what a blessing, someone might see that sign that says DUI and maybe they’ll think ‘this is it, I’m not drinking anymore’ or slow down,” Waters said. “The strangest things save people.”
According to the Georgia Department of Transportation's website, over the past two years there has been a 33 percent increase in fatalities on Georgia’s roads, with 129 more fatalities in 2016 than in 2015, a total of 1,561 in 2016.
Sixty percent of those involve the driver failing to maintain their lane, and 74 percent are attributed to driver behavior including distracted driving, impaired driving or driving too fast for conditions, the website reads.
Waters sustained fatal injuries in a head-on collision with another vehicle driven by Matthew Nelson Turner, then 31, of Gainesville.
Turner, who was driving a 2006 Chevy Silverado, crossed the double yellow lines in the lane of oncoming traffic with both left tires on the shoulder of the road for approximately 200 feet, according to officials with Georgia State Patrol. Turner tried to correct and struck Waters’ vehicle head-on. Waters was driving a 1997 Chevy C-60. Turner Turner was arrested July 10, 2015 and pled guilty this February to homicide by vehicle, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road, failure to maintain lane and tire requirements. He was fined $1,990 and sent to alcohol and drug treatment court.
Turner served 18 months in jail from the time of his arrest to his conviction, and will serve 10 years on probation.