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Ray of light shines
Safety program pays tribute to young wreck victim
Safety Town 5 es
Jennifer Rao, mother of late Safety Town volunteer Kiran Rao, looks over a plaque honoring her daughter with Jacob Joiner, Safety Town organizer. Kiran Rao, 10, was fatally injured in a Dec. 11 two-vehicle wreck on Market Place Boulevard. - photo by Emily Saunders

Special guests and a special honor were part of Friday's Safety Town graduation at Shiloh Point Elementary School.

Safety Town's first Kiran Rao Volunteer of the Year Award went to 18-year-old Josh Ringler during the ceremony, put on by Forsyth County's parks and recreation department.

Ringler has worked four years with the program, part of a national effort designed to introduce kindergarten-age children to safety awareness and procedures.

Rao, 10, was an active volunteer with Safety Town and a fifth-grader at Daves Creek Elementary. She died Dec. 21 from injuries suffered 10 days earlier in what authorities say was an alcohol-related wreck.

Also injured in that crash on Market Place Boulevard were Rao's mother, Jennifer Rao, and her 14-year-old brother, Alexander.

Gregory Lee Wills, 40, of Buford was initially charged with driving under the influence and two counts of serious injury by vehicle in connection with the wreck.

In April, Wills also was charged with one count of homicide by vehicle, according to information from the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office. He was released from jail after posting a $16,610 bond.

Jennifer Rao said the award "helps keep (Kiran) alive a little bit."

"It's an honor," she said. "She really loved kids. She always wanted to do everything her older brother did and that's how she got started in this."

Rao said a stained glass window in Kiran's honor can be seen above the front doors of Daves Creek Elementary.
"Her name means ray of light," she said.

Rao, who has a metal rod in her leg as a result of her injuries, said Alexander was in Chicago visiting relatives Friday. The family is still recovering from losing Kiran.

"You take it as you can," she said.

She declined to comment about the charges against Wills.

Safety Town founder, Dorothy Chlad, and her husband, Frank, traveled from Ohio for the graduation. She encouraged parents to continue safety education with their children at home.

Jacob Joiner, Safety Town organizer, said 60 children graduated Friday afternoon and 80 graduated that morning. The program is in its 11th year in Forsyth County. There have been 57 graduations, and 3,683 children have completed the nine days of lessons, he said.

Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman also spoke at the ceremony. Cpl. Terry Hamrick and Cpl. Jason Nipper, school resource officers from the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, briefly quizzed the kids on their new safety skills, urging them to show off their knowledge.