Georgia crime victims gather in Forsyth

FORSYTH -- Laura Madison could not keep from crying.

It has not been even six months since her only daughter was killed.

Tiffany Nicole Madison was fatally injured by someone in a stolen car fleeing from police outside of Atlanta in October.

On Tuesday, her mother was one of hundreds of Georgia crime victims who came to Forsyth to learn about victims’ rights and the services available to them.

When another young woman named Tiffany sang a tribute to the victims, Madison’s tears flowed in Roberts Chapel at the Georgia Department of Corrections headquarters on the old Tift College campus.

Grieving families and loved ones, still feeling pain and frustration in the wake of crime, heard from representatives of 10 state agencies working together for the past six years in a Victims’ Services Partnership.

The gathering was to begin next week’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with its 2015 theme: Engaging Communities, Empowering Victims.

Many victims do not know monetary compensation is available, said Gana Ahn, a spokeswoman for a firm spreading the word for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Jacqueline Bunn, executive director of the council, said $17.2 million was distributed in fiscal 2014, but that did not meet the needs. She hopes to make $20 million available this year.

“Money in the Victims’ Compensation fund is not taxpayer dollars,” Bunn said. “It’s money generated by fines and fees.”

In Bibb County during fiscal 2014, 95 claims were filed, and all but one were paid for a total of more than $622,000, Ahn said.

“Victims’ compensation is not like workmen’s compensation. People are not aware it exists,” she said.

Bunn said up to $15,000 is available for medical expenses, $10,000 for lost wages and $6,000 for funeral expenses.

“We know there are still victims who have not heard of the program and are not taking advantage of these resources,” Bunn told those assembled for the open house.

Funds are even available for DUI memorials, she said.

After the morning session, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles scheduled face-to-face meetings with those still feeling the effects of crime.

Board Chairman Terry Barnard said since the advent of Victims Visitors’ Day, more than 2,300 people have had their questions answered in person.

“We want to help victims become survivors,” Barnard said. “We must listen to the cries from victims.”

Billy and Kathy Inman traveled from Woodstock seeking justice for their son, Dustin Inman, who they say was killed when an undocumented immigrant crashed into their car at a traffic light in Ellijay in June 2000.

Kathy Inman was confined to a wheelchair after the accident.

“It’s getting harder and harder to keep it alive,” Billy Inman said of the investigation, mired in diplomatic red tape between the U.S. and Mexico. “It’s just frustrating, and I don’t know what to do.”

The words “Never Forgotten” encircled their 16-year-old son’s photograph on a badge presented to the couple at a victims’ vendor fair on campus.

The Inmans are doing everything they can think of to bring Dustin’s killer to justice but are not making progress.

“Our government and their government are not doing what they need to,” he said.

Even after suspects are identified and arrested, negotiating the legal system can be challenging for grieving families.

Valerie Adams and her mother, Gertrude R. Lee, traveled from Milledgeville to attend their third victims’ event.

“We learned a lot when we came here,” Adams said. “We found out we weren’t the only ones who didn’t understand the sentencing.”

Her son, Craig Ormond Adams II, was shot and killed during an attempted robbery at his apartment in September 2010. He was just days away from starting at Georgia College & State University after moving out on his own.

“They assumed that he had something because of the family,” said Adams, whose late father, Collins P. Lee, was a longtime Milledgeville city councilman and civic leader.

“But he was struggling,” his grandmother said.

Adams can only now begin to talk about losing her son.

“It was horrifying,” she said. “When you’re actually going through it, you have so much going on in your mind.”

For Madison, the legal proceedings are just beginning for the teen accused of her daughter’s death, so there was no need to speak to the parole board. But she found the event helpful.

“It makes you feel good that somebody cares.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.