On a crisp autumn day in 2013, Donna Gerrish’s daughter, Chelsea, walked mom through her new home. It was one of the last times they would ever see each other.
With Chelsea’s 2-year-old son Aiden in tow, the trio walked the property of the newly purchased abode, a two-bedroom house with a creek running through the backyard. Donna remembers the look on Chelsea’s face: an expression of accomplishment, of pride for her new dwelling.
And, that creek.
Chelsea, 20, was fond of reptiles, amphibians and other creatures, and she hoped to glimpse a salamander or a snake in the trickling waters. She loved animals. She loved her son. And, says mom, Chelsea “loved life.”
Her life ended in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2013. Chelsea died from injuries in a road rage-related crash on Browns Bridge Road when a pickup truck tried to pass another vehicle and hit her SUV head-on. The man responsible for the wreck also died in the crash, and nobody was prosecuted.
Parents Donna and Tony Gerrish were recognized recently for their efforts in bringing awareness to the perils of aggressive driving. During a Dawson County Board of Commissioners meeting, state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, presented them with an official state resolution.
Following the death of their daughter, the Gerrish family became advocates. They spoke at school assemblies. They took the issue to the state General Assembly in an effort to create greater penalties for aggressive drivers. They fought tooth and nail, said Donna Gerrish, a Gainesville resident.
“Road rage is not a joke,” she said. “It needs to be taken seriously. It’s claiming lives. It’s ruining families. It’s crazy. And, everybody experiences it. People on the road cutting each other off, giving you the finger. Cussing each other out. They think it’s a joke.”
Through their work, the Gerrishes learned that there were no references to aggressive driving in Georgia’s test to obtain a driver’s license.
“They advocated that the state change that and the state department of motor vehicles did so, and they’ve now actually started including questions related to aggressive driving,” said Tanner during the recent recognition. “(Tony and Donna Gerrish have) taken a terrible situation, a loss of their child, a beautiful young lady with a lot of potential, and turned it into a positive as they continue to promote this effort to try to save others’ lives.”
Donna said she wishes they could have done even more, because nobody should have to go through what they did. Nobody should ever have to get that kind of call in the middle of the night, she said.
It’s stamped forever in her memory, but it acts as an impetus in her efforts to raise awareness in the fight against aggressive driving.
“We’ve fought long and hard,” Donna said. “And I think Chelsea would be proud.”
Times regional staff writer Michele Hester contributed to this report.