Randy Budd spent the last two years passionately pushing for new laws requiring highway overpass fences after his wife was nearly killed by a large rock thrown at their windshield.
On Sunday, Budd, 55, was pronounced dead at his home in Uniontown, Ohio. The cause: a self-inflicted gunshot, PennLive.com reported.
However, those close to him said that is not where the tragedy began.
On July 10, 2014, Budd, his wife, Sharon, and their daughter Kaylee were driving east down Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania, a spur-of-the-moment road trip to New York City. Somewhere above them, four teens stood on a highway overpass, their own car stopped nearby.
One of the teens held a 2kg rock and, as the Budds approached, hurled it towards the road.
The rock smashed through the Budds' windshield, striking Sharon Budd in the head and crushing her skull. The former Ohio school teacher also lost an eye and suffered permanent brain damage. Over the next two years, she would undergo numerous operations at Geisinger Medical Centre in Danville.
A teen who was a part of that group would later tell the Budd family in court that he regretted his actions that summer night every single day.
"My kids lost their mum," Randy Budd later told the teenagers in court. And, he added, he had lost his wife as he knew her.
After the incident, Budd advocated for new laws that would require fencing on highway overpasses. He worked with Republican Pennsylvania state Senator Gene Yaw to draft such a bill earlier this year, and the proposed legislation had recently been passed on to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for comment, Yaw told the Washington Post.
Less than three hours before his death, Budd texted Yaw: "Please," he wrote, "get the fence issue settled."
"There's no question about it. It's a double tragedy," Yaw told the Post. "His wife was severely injured and now this happens to him. There's no question it arises out of the same incident."
"What a tragic loss. My thoughts and prayers to Randy Budd's family and friends during this very difficult time."
The Budds had worked with Republican Ohio state Senator Scott Oelslager to push for similar laws in their home state. In January, the Ohio Department of Transportation passed new guidelines that required contractors to put up "vandal protection fencing" on new highway projects and renovations.
"I feel like we just won something, and I think we did," Randy Budd told the Canton Repository after the victory. But he added that he wouldn't be satisfied until every state has a similar rule.
There's no question about it. It's a double tragedy. His wife was severely injured and now this happens to him. There's no question it arises out of the same incident
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Still, life for the Budds had changed irrevocably. In January, shortly after Ohio's transportation department passed its new guidelines, an emotional Randy Budd said in an interview with Fox 8 Cleveland that his wife required 24-hour care.
Pennyslvania's Union County District Attorney Peter Johnson told PennLive.com that Budd may have committed suicide, but faulted what the four young men did on the overpass two years before.
"Randy Budd did not die from a gunshot," Johnson said. "He died when those kids threw a rock through his windshield. . . They killed him like they killed her."
The four on the overpass - Brett Lahr, Dylan Lahr, Keefer McGee and Tyler Porter - were convicted and sentenced to prison for minimum sentences ranging from 11 1/2 months to 4 1/2 years, according to PennLive.com. On the night of the rock-throwing incident, the four had reportedly been on a "vandalism spree" that included driving through a cornfield and bashing the windows of an area home with a baseball bat.
Randy Budd is survived by his wife and their four children, according to PennLive.com. A family friend set up a GoFundMe page over the weekend to raise money to cover funeral costs, long-term care for Sharon Budd, and their daughter's college tuition.
"Randy stood vigilently [sic] by the side of his wife not only during her long journey to 'recovery,' but for the last 33 years of their marriage. He advocated for her in court, sought justice for the teens who turned his family's world upside down and worked with state Senators to pass laws mandating fencing on highway overpasses," the page read.
"Now it is time that we remain #BUDDstrong for Randy and the family he so dearly loved."
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