James Donald Rice is remembered as a “beautiful mess” by his friends at The Way, a day mission in Gainesville for the homeless and disabled.
Rice, who was called Donald by those who knew and loved him, was accidentally struck by a car and killed last week while walking along Roy Parks Road near Talmo.
“He could be annoying as all get out,” said Chandler Gaines, a longtime supporter of The Way and a friend of Rice’s. “But you couldn’t stay mad at him. He was a very, very, very good soul.”
Friends will meet at The Way this morning to travel together to Commerce for Rice’s funeral. Pastor Jerry Deyton, who founded The Way, will preside over the funeral and give the eulogy.
Rice had physical handicaps almost his entire life that limited his mobility and made controlling his motor functions difficult, according to friends.
“It was the third time Donald had been struck by cars,” Gaines wrote in a Facebook post sharing news of Rice’s death. “He had a health condition that caused him to sort of dance when he walked.”
And he loved to walk. Often, Deyton said, he would trek to Talmo to visit a relative.
“He didn’t care too much for being in the city,” Deyton added.
Deyton said he spoke with the elderly woman who was driving the car that hit Rice. He believes it was getting late and dark and that Rice was confused about where he was in relation to the road and shoulder.
A car swerved to avoid striking Rice before the Chevrolet Silverado driven by the elderly woman hit him. She will not face criminal charges, and Rice’s friends acknowledge that it was an accident and not her fault.
Deyton said it appears Rice died instantly from a broken neck and that friends believe his suffering was minimal.
By the time paramedics arrived, he was already dead, according to Georgia State Patrol.
When Deyton met him about two years ago, Rice had no place to stay.
“The Lord put him on my heart,” Deyton said, adding that he worked to get Rice qualified for disability income, became his “payee,” covered power bills and had his staff wash Rice’s clothes and feed him daily.
Rice loved to talk about Jesus — everywhere he went — and his friends take solace in the belief that he spent this Christmas with the angels in heaven.
“He knew the Bible front to back,” said Early Glasper, a friend and volunteer at The Way. “We was his family.”
Mike Delana, a friend and frequent visitor to The Way, said Rice was like a brother to many of the men at the mission.
“(Rice) was a sweet guy,” he added. “It still hasn’t sunk in. I’m still waiting for him to walk in the door.”