Remembering a tragedy, honoring the man who worked for a solution
“Whereas Mr. Maron Sydney Buice has long been recognized by the citizens of this state for the vital role he has played in leadership and his deep personal commitment to the welfare of the citizens of Georgia . . . his influence and determination can be felt today with the countless lives saved due to his hard-fought battle to ensure a bridge was constructed on Nelson Brogdon Boulevard/Highway 20 over the railroad tracks . . . “ (HB364)
Our story begins one ill-fated day on Sunday, November 8, 1970. Five teenage girls from Forsyth County were driving near Buford when their car collided with a speeding train headed for Atlanta. Their car was dragged 1,912 feet along the tracks, and the girls were killed instantly. The oldest girl in the car was 17; the youngest 14, and all attended Forsyth County High School.
News of the tragedy spread quickly in the small town. It wasn’t the first time an accident had happened at the poorly designed intersection at Ga. 20 now meets Peachtree Industrial Blvd. It had no signals and was notorious for being a death trap. Many were aghast — horrified that accidents like these continued to happen. But where others dismayed, one man decided enough was enough and began brainstorming a solution.
In tenure from 1968 to 1984, Maron Buice served as a Gwinnett County Commissioner in those days and knew the entire county needed safety precautions put in place at its railway crossings. His plan was to erect an overpass bridge at the “Mangum’s Crossing” on Nelson Brogdon Blvd./ Hwy. 20 and install signals so the tragedy would never be repeated.
But as many longtime residents will attest, change was also slow as molasses in those days, and funding was hard to come by. Despite these obstacles, Maron persevered, and with the help of friends from the Georgia and Gwinnett Departments of Transportation, he succeeded in building the bridge and placing signs on the crossing in 1975.
Now, more than four decades later, state and local officials have decided to honor the man who made it all happen. On August 31, 2019, city council members, state representatives and friends and family of Maron Buice gathered in the Sugar Hill E Center to celebrate the renaming of the “Maron Sidney Buice Bridge.”
“This was the first big project for Gwinnett County,” Senator Renee Unterman said of the project that cost over $2.6 million. “It was a remarkable project for Gwinnett County. Now it doesn’t seem like anything, but back in the day, this was a very, very big deal, just as the tragedy was a big deal.”
Speaking to the gathering of family, friends, and community members, Maron admitted he was not without help in completing the railroad overpass. “I didn’t do it by myself. You can’t do everything. I may get the credit, but it takes a lot of people to make good things happen,” Maron said.
Funding was the first challenge Maron faced as Commissioner of District 1, a low population density district. “We were poor as Old Joe’s Turkey,” Maron joked. But with Georgia DOT Commissioner Thomas Moreland’s help, they were able to secure funding, and the project was completed. “If it hadn’t been for [Tom], it would have been much harder to do what I did,” Maron said.
Other contributors were Gwinnett Commission Chairman Bill Atkinson, Senator Steve Reynolds, and DOT District Engineer Lewis Canup. Wayne Mason and Wayne Shackleford and others were also recognized at the ceremony.
When the job was done, the planning team decided to celebrate by testing the new bridge. “When we got to the top, the car stopped running, so we all got out and pushed it over. And then it started again going downhill!” Maron chuckled in recollection.
Maron’s family and those he had inspired in the community found the bridge naming a fitting expression of gratitude, appropriately held, a not as a memorial, but with its contemporary honoree in attendance. It was both a solemn and joyous occasion as Maron helped unveil the sign labeled “Maron Sidney Buice” which will be mounted at the crossing at Nelson Brogdon Boulevard.
The Maron Buice Bridge also serves as a monument to the girls who lost their lives on that tragic day 49 years ago. Their names, ages and respective lineage are as follows: Linda Lou Holtzclaw, age 17, and Patricia Gail Holtzclaw, 15, both daughters of Wilburn Holtzclaw; Kathy Holtzclaw, 14, daughter of Roy Holtzclaw; Peggy Sue Daniels, 16, daughter of Emmett Daniels, and Cristi Martin, 15, daughter of Emory Martin.
Sorrow and distress are natural responses, but it takes true leadership and courage to take action in the wake of tragedy. It took a leader like Maron Buice to find a solution to create a safer community for residents and visitors alike.
“Whereas it is abundantly fitting and proper that this remarkable and distinguished Georgian be recognized appropriately by dedicating a bridge in his honor.” (HB364)