Just days after 42-year-old, Siriam Sundaram was killed in a wreck along Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth, the local community has sprung into action, mobilizing in the thousands to raise funds the grieving family and petitioning local elected officials to affect change in the county.
According to a news release from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, at about 6:20 p.m. Thursday night, deputies and firefighters responded to the scene of a wreck between a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado and a 2012 Honda Civic at Peachtree Parkway and Callaway Court, finding the driver of the Civic, Sundaram, with critical traumatic injuries.
Authorities believe that the Chevrolet was traveling northbound on Peachtree Parkway pulling a trailer and backhoe when it struck the Honda, which was turning left into Callaway Court from Peachtree Parkway southbound.
The cause of the wreck is still under investigation by the sheriff’s office traffic safety unit.
‘If you are a friend, you stand up for your friends’
A GoFundMe campaign to support the Sundaram family earned more than $359,163 from 8,000 donors in just days. The funds raised will be used by the family to return Sundaram’s body to his home, Chennai, India and help them restart their lives there.
According to friends, Sundaram was a foodie that loved coffee, his family and supported his friends and coworkers.
One friend, Sai Krishna Natesan, who first met Sundaram when their daughters took dance lessons together, said that his friend was known for the great extent he would go to help out others.
“There were hundreds of people that look up to him and have been helped by him from the time that they started their careers,” Natesan said. “That’s the kind of person he is.”
He said that when the campaign came together, they were initially blown away by the sheer number of people that dropped everything from their lives to support Sundaram’s family. And as the GoFundMe spread from person to person on social media, more and more people gave or wanted to help.
“Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not surprised everyone came out just like me,” he said. “If you are a friend, you stand up for your friends — that’s what hundreds of people did.”
‘Sometimes logic works better than a feasibility study’
In the wake of Sundaram’s death, a concerned citizens group from the south Forsyth area has mobilized to go beyond the GoFundMe that was started in his honor, gathering more than 3,300 signatures of citizens expressing their concerns over the intersection.
“We are requesting that a traffic light/signal or a closed median or a no left turn signal whichever will be appropriate,” petition author Ponni Chinnamuthu stated in the petition. “Let’s make the change and be proactive so that another life is not lost because of the insufficient safety measure.”
According to the group, the intersection of Peachtree Parkway and Callaway Court is widely regarded by the community as a dangerous intersection, with thousands of vehicles passing through it and the Cherians International Fresh Market each day.
The group believes that the biggest issue of the intersection is that traffic in and out of the subdivision or shopping center traffic, is funneled through one entrance, on to Peachtree Parkway where speeds can reach 60 miles per hour or more and other traffic conditions can make it hard to see oncoming vehicles.
Georgia Department of Transportation records obtained by the FCN show that between 2011 and 2018, 14 wrecks occurred at or around the Peachtree Parkway and Callaway Court intersection.
Chinnamuthu said on Wednesday that she started the petition in part because she worried about the hundreds of people that come to Cherians International Fresh Market each day but are unaware of many wrecks that occur there and the potential dangers.
"People who are staying here, they know how the road is and they will be prepared,” she said. “But people who are visiting from outside, they do not know how the road will be."
Another group member, Nazeera Dawood, said they are seeking both short-term and long-term solutions to the problem to avoid any more potentially fatal wrecks.
"The long-term fix so far that the community is speculating and proposing is a traffic signal," Dawood said. "I'm sure that the county or GDOT has its own policies ... but waiting for a traffic study for six months and seven months, sometimes logic works better than a feasibility study, and logic already proves it's a dangerous intersection."
She said that they are ready to do whatever is necessary to make the intersection safer.
"Even if we have to close that intersection, let's close it," she said.
‘We’re jumping on it and we’re going to get something done’
The group of concerned citizens will be meeting with several Forsyth County Commissioners and representatives from GDOT on Friday to discuss the intersection in an informal setting and talk about what can be done to make it safer.
When asked about the meeting, commissioners Dennis Brown stated that they were ready to get all parties to the table and work toward a solution to the situation.
“We’re going to look and explore what can be done,” Brown said. “We’re jumping on it and we’re going to get something done because it’s certainly a public safety issue.”
GDOT Communications Specialist Katie Strickland confirmed that representatives from the department will be in attendance at the meeting but could not provide further comment.
After the meeting was announced, group members said that they were cautiously hopeful. Prior outcries from the community about the intersection did not yield any discernable results.
According to Nathan Danapalan, HOA president of Greystone Subdivision on Callaway Court, in 2015, a group of citizens petitioned GDOT for improved safety measures at the same intersection, listing several concerns, like inadequate vehicle stacking distance for the left turn entrance to Callaway Court and the short vehicle deceleration lane allowing right turns into Callaway Court.
Danapalan said that in the petition they listed several solutions to the problems, like constructing a second entrance or exit to the Cherians shopping center, but in the end, nothing changed.
"We didn't get any direction, we didn't get any support ... we didn't get any positive response," he said.
Danapalan said they will present more potential solutions to GDOT , such as closing the median that currently allows turns in and out of Callaway Court from Peachtree Parkway or the installation of traffic control devices at Callaway Court or farther down Peachtree Parkway at Bagley Road.
The group isn’t picky about what county or state officials decide, Danapalan said, just so long as they do something to make the intersection safer.
"If they had listened to the document that the HOA submitted in 2015 ... maybe that one person may not have died," Danapalan said.