Community remembers local teen

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Katie Richins donates organs after succumbing to injuries received in automobile wreck

  • Katie Richins enjoys the outdoors. Richins was a newly licensed driver when she crashed Aug. 17 in Stephens County, leaving her with injuries that were not “survivable,” according to medial professionals.
    Katie Richins enjoys the outdoors. Richins was a newly licensed driver when she crashed Aug. 17 in Stephens County, leaving her with injuries that were not “survivable,” according to medial professionals.
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A Habersham County teenager who was declared dead last week following a car accident is being hailed a hero after her organs were donated to people in need.

Katie Danielle Richins, 19, of Cornelia, died Friday, Aug. 23, following injuries she sustained in the Stephens County crash.

Richins’ mother, Jennifer Harris of Cornelia, said she’s beyond proud of her daughter.

“I knew she was an organ donor and could save potentially six people, but when I found out she chose to donate tissue as well and could help as many as 75 people, my heart filled with love and pride for my daughter,” she told The Northeast Georgian. “Katie was able to donate her heart, liver and both kidneys, then tissue on top of that. Fulfilling Katie’s final wish of being an organ donor brought me some peace these last few days.”

According to Richins’ cousin, Becca Crunkleton, the teen had only had her license one week prior to the single-vehicle accident that ultimately took her life.

Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley said Monday that at around 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, a vehicle was traveling on Scenic Drive in the direction of its intersection with Falls Road. Shirley said the vehicle went off the shoulder on the driver’s side of the road and then veered across the centerline into the opposite lane, traveled off the roadway and struck a tree head-on.

“It is unknown at this time why the driver of the vehicle lost control,” he said.

Shirley said the driver, Richins, was flown by helicopter to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville for treatment, but the family later learned her injuries were not “survivable.”

Richins, who was 18 at the time of the crash, lived long enough to see her 19th birthday from a hospital bed Aug. 21, but was declared dead two days later and her organs donated that weekend, Crunkleton said.

“It was incredible to see so many people there to support Katie and our family,” she told The Northeast Georgian. “It means so much to see how much of an impact she made in her short 19 years. The LifeLink representatives told us that it was the largest crowd that they had ever seen at an Honor Walk.”

During an Honor Walk, well-wishers line the hallways as a donor is taken to the operating room.

Crunkleton said Richins attended Habersham Central High School (HCHS), then received her GED, and had plans to go to college.

Since the accident, current HCHS students have turned out to honor Richins’ memory, even painting “the rock” on campus as a tribute to their friend and former peer.

“The impact Katie Richins had on Habersham Central has been very evident the past few days,” HCHS Principal Jonathan Stribling told The Northeast Georgian. “Multiple students and teachers have commented on what an excellent person she was and how she was an asset to our school during her time as a student. ... Katie will certainly be missed.”

Born in Demorest, Richins was a life-long native of Habersham County and was known as being “extremely generous,” Crunkleton said.

“She was compassionate and giving,” she said. “She was thrilled when she found out that she could donate blood and never thought twice about being an organ donor. She always did what she could to help others, so it was no surprise when she chose to become an organ donor.”

Kim Martin, a close family friend, was Richins’ Sunday school teacher and young women’s leader at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Mt. Airy.

“Katie was always fun to be around and I was privileged to attend lots of youth activities like girls camp, youth conference and monthly activities with Katie,” she told The Northeast Georgian.

Martin described Richins as trusting and kind, loving everyone she came into contact with.

“She was eager to please, help and lift others, especially if they were sad,” she said. “Katie had a long list of things she loved: babies, Harry Potter and Dr. Who, boy bands, dressing up pretty, music and her family.”

Martin said Richins was one of those rare kids who was comfortable around people of any age.

“She had lots of adult and toddler friends,” she said. “At 6 feet tall, she wasn’t afraid to wear really tall heels and be taller than everyone – that was just who she was. She loved to tease, laugh and give a hug to everyone!”

Martin said Richins also loved to read scriptures and learn about her savior, Jesus Christ.

“Katie will be missed by so many people,” she said. “I doubt she fully realized the impact she had on her family, friends, community, and now in death, she has made a difference to strangers because she donated her organs as a final gift. Katie will be remembered for her positive attitude, forgiving heart and her fantastic hugs! To testify of her goodness, there were friends and family who went about doing good deeds in Katie’s honor after her accident. If you are reading this, please do something kind or forgive someone a trespass in her honor. It came naturally to Katie, but [some] of us have to try to be like her.”

Crunkleton said Richins was ambitious, but also indecisive when it came to big life decisions, like what to study at school or what career to pursue. However, while she decided, Crunkleton said Richins worked two jobs – at Fred’s in Clarkesville and Lowe’s in Cornelia.

“She was a hard worker and loved being around people,” she said. “She was still trying to decide on a career path that perfectly embodied those characteristics.”

But one thing Crunkleton said Richins was certain of was her relationship with her boyfriend, Noah Bourne.

“They had big plans for their future,” she said. “He stayed by her side the entire time that she was in the hospital and certainly demonstrated how strongly and unconditionally he loved her.”

Crunkleton said, “Love is in short supply in this world,” so when someone like Richins – known as a loving and giving person – walked into people’s lives with a pure, innocent and unconditional love, they remembered it.

“It’s not surprising that people would show up to support her as she continues to pay it forward even more,” she said. “Every single person that showed up had been positively impacted by Katie in some way. She definitely left her mark on the world.”

And what a mark she made.

After news of Richins’ accident spread in the community and on social media, people began reaching out to the family and posting publicly about the teen.

Richard Smith, front-end supervisor at Lowe’s, said Richins worked as a cashier. And in the aftermath of Richins’ death, Smith said it was evident she touched many lives, including those of their customers.

“She was a wonderful young girl,” he told The Northeast Georgian. “She had this inquisitive, kind, innocent personality that you couldn’t help but love, and the last few days I’ve heard more stories from people at the store, simple acts of kindness, that I never realized were happening until they came to me. She was just a sweet, giving person and touched a lot of hearts.”

Smith said Richins never met a stranger.

“And what we’ve all been discussing is her body may not be with us anymore, but her spirit will live on,” he said, especially with her being an organ donor.

“Her organ donation is going to be saving a lot of lives,” he said.

Smith said Lowe’s has turned two chalkboards at the front of the store, one of which is usually used to display customer comments, into a place for her fellow cashiers and other co-workers to write tributes and honor her memory.

“Katie was always a kind-hearted young lady,” said Richins’ “Fred’s family” in a group statement to The Northeast Georgian. “She always made sure everyone was happy. Everyone was her friend. From the time you met her, you was addicted to her radiant smile. No matter what was going on, she always saw past the bad with a smile on her face. Her love was unconditional for everyone she met. Never was she in a bad mood. The world was definitely a brighter place with her here. We will always love and miss you, Katie.”

As of The Northeast Georgian’s press deadline Tuesday, a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with Richins’ medical and funeral expenses had raised $7,500-plus of a $5,000 goal thanks to the generosity of nearly 100 donors. The page can be found here: gofundme.com/f/medical-and-funeral-expenses-for-katie-richins

Funeral services for Richins will be held at 11 a.m. today, Aug. 28, at Hillside Memorial Chapel and Gardens in Clarkesville. Burial will follow in Yonah Memorial Gardens. Visitation was held Tuesday. See Page 8A, this edition, for the complete obituary.

As of press deadline, the wreck was still under investigation by the Georgia State Patrol.

An attempt to reach Bourne for comment was unsuccessful by The Northeast Georgian’s press deadline Tuesday.

J. Todd Truelove with The Toccoa Record, sister newspaper to The Northeast Georgian, contributed to this story.