Athlete grapples with guilt, gratitude

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Curtis Bunn published an article on April 21, 2008 about Georgia Tech quarterback Bryce Dykes.

In April Dykes was in a Gwinnett County courtroom, accepting two years' probation for an auto crash that killed Linda Lin Zhu, 40. Bunn wrote:

Since that night, March 9, 2007, Dykes, 19, a National Honor Society student from Norcross, has suffered guilt, depression and doubts about his future —- which brightened when the victim's husband forgave him during an emotional courtroom scene.

"At times, it's been really hard to get through," Dykes said after a recent Tech practice. "It's something that always will be there with me. I'm not going to just forget."

Swiftly, sadness shrouded his face.

"But the Zhu family," Dykes said, looking away, "it's something they live with every day, too. More than me."

At the Gwinnett Arena last year, Dykes and a group of friends were among dozens of Norcross High School students who painted their faces blue and cheered wildly as their classmates captured their second straight AAAAA boys state basketball championship.

Not far away, at First Chinese Christian Church in Norcross, the Rev. Michael Zhu was wrapping up a service with his congregation.

Later, Zhu, wife Linda and two other friends headed home; Dykes and two friends were en route to school for a post-championship celebration. At the intersection of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and South Berkeley Lake Road, they came together.

Forever.

Dykes' Jeep Cherokee struck the rear of the Zhus' Nissan Altima. Linda Zhu, who was riding in the back seat, was rushed to Atlanta Medical Center. She died.

"Two joyous evenings coming together in a horrible way," said Drew Findling, the lawyer representing Dykes. "Just minutes before, both parties were celebrating."

Dykes was charged on March 30, 2007, with homicide by vehicle in the second degree. There was no evidence of speeding, alcohol or drug use. An investigation determined he was following too closely. Dykes eventually pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

He and his family asked permission to attend the wake of Linda Lin Zhu. The Rev. Zhu agreed. At the viewing, he embraced Dykes, who wept.

The two men came together once more at the sentencing hearing.

Dykes, crying the entire time, addressed the Zhu family, apologizing for his actions while asking for forgiveness.

"It's the most emotional thing I've ever seen in 23 years of doing this," Findling said. "That one hour captured the emotions of everyone there: the judge, deputies. . . . It was draining for everyone."

Zhu had already planned to ask the judge for leniency toward Dykes. "That is the attitude I have in this life," he said. "It's my philosophy on the way to live."

Zhu said he was made aware by his lawyer and others that Dykes is "a good kid, good football player" and National Honor Society member. "And I saw that he was a good person because he didn't hit-and-run. And he was very honest," he said.

"When he spoke, he was crying. He was sincere. I knew it. He was very sorry and regretful. Also, as a parent of a 16-year-old [son], it was very easy for me to put myself in his parents' shoes.

"I told the judge: 'There should be a balance. We should keep the integrity of the law. But we also should teach.' "

Judge Randy Rich agreed. As part of the reckless driving plea, Dykes is on probation and is required to speak to youths about the necessity of being safe drivers.

Zhu's kindness and mercy have astonished the Dykes household.

"An amazing man," said Darryl Dykes, Bryce's father. "I just can't imagine the excruciating pain he has been in, and yet he has allowed us and Bryce to express our regret and sorrow. As hard as it has been for us, I know it has by far been hardest on him and his family. And I just could not imagine being as gracious as he has been with us."

Said Bryce Dykes, whose parents are Tech graduates: "Their family was a lot more receptive than I would have been. They were gracious and merciful. It was surprising, but Reverend Zhu is a great man."

Zhu said he is behaving the way he thinks his wife would want.

"Everybody makes mistakes," he said. "Hating doesn't help. Hating cannot bring Linda back to life. It's most important how you deal with it and provide a future for the living ones. My wife would do the same thing. If I meet her in heaven, she will say I did the right thing."

http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/printedition/2008/04/21/dykes0421.html