Tragic wreck in Gwinnett County
As reported by ANDRIA SIMMONS The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/06/08
A few minutes after dusk last Monday, five drivers made their way north from Atlanta on I-85, unaware their lives were about to intersect.
Adekunle Akinmola, 42, had just finished checking a rental property he owns in Stone Mountain. He expected a quiet evening at home in Dacula with his wife and four children.
Scott Hoeft, 45, a roofing contractor, had left the VA Hospital to join his wife and son in Suwanee.
Mehboob Hashim, 49, and his 11-year-old son had just come from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he met his two sisters, in town from London to attend a relative’s wedding. The sisters and Hashim’s wife rode in a separate car.
“My son was talking about his school, what he wanted to do on spring break,” Hashim recalled. “I was telling him hopefully we’ll go out somewhere.”
They were the lucky ones — Akinmola, Hoeft and Hashim. They made it home at the end of the night, badly shaken and emotionally devastated, but nevertheless alive.
At about 8:30 p.m. Monday, those three drivers were caught up in a five-car, chain-reaction collision that state DOT officials said was the deadliest to occur in northeast Georgia in the past 15 years.
The fates of the remaining two drivers — Mark Anthony Gay, 44, and Carmon Cody Rhoden, 20 — were about to become intertwined.
A baseball fanatic, Rhoden was driving home to Gainesville from the Atlanta Braves home opener, which he attended with a buddy he worked with at the Rhoden family’s tire shop in Gainesville. The two young men were discussing fishing and baseball to pass the time on the hourlong ride home, said Jeffrey Sliz, Rhoden’s lawyer.
The atmosphere was lighthearted that evening in Gay’s Ford Excursion limousine.
Seated in the back, the Randle family was reminiscing happily about a recent trip to their former home near Salt Lake City. The mother and father, the couple’s two children, future son-in-law and baby grandson had gone to catch up with old friends and attend a wedding.
Gay, a widower and father to a 15-year-old son, had taken the family to the airport about a week earlier. Now he was taking them home to Lawrenceville.
One family member, Falleen Randle, 43, was talking on a cellphone with her brother, “laughing and joking” as she described the trip, her sister Sulianna Chandler said.
The limousine approached the intersection of Indian Trail Lilburn Road in Norcross, about eight miles from its destination.
In a split-second, the lives of the five drivers converged.
Brakes screeched, glass shattered, metal crunched and a sea of cars traveling behind them ground to a halt as a chain-reaction wreck unfolded.
Police said Rhoden was driving recklessly, speeding and weaving in and out of lanes when he clipped the SUV limo.
The limo slammed into the back of a Toyota Corolla driven by Hashim and flipped several times. A few feet away, Akinmola’s Mercedes and Hoeft’s Ford F-150 pickup truck collided in the center lane.
Killed were Gay and three members of the Randle family: Alexander Randle, 14; his sister, Whitney Randle, 21; and Whitney’s 13-month-old son, Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley.
Demetrius Randle, 45, Alexander and Whitney’s father and the baby’s grandfather, suffered a severe head injury. He was in critical condition Friday at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Rhoden was arrested the following day on multiple charges, including first-degree vehicular homicide.
The drivers who survived say they are still haunted by memories of the accident.
Hoeft’s left knee was banged up in the crash, and he had to take a few days off work because the truck he uses on the job was impounded. Flashbacks keep him awake at night.
“I’ve seen it every night in my sleep,” Hoeft said. “I haven’t slept more than two hours a night since it happened.”
Hashim considers himself lucky, even though his car was badly damaged and his son suffered a bruise from the seat belt.
If Hashim’s wife had not lost her parking receipt at the airport, causing a 10-minute delay, she and his two sisters probably would have been involved in the crash, too.
“Thank God that she wasn’t there. It would have been very bad,” Hashim said.
Akinmola’s neck and back are sore, and he keeps visualizing the grisly aftermath of the crash.
Like the other drivers, Akinmola has been turning the events over in his mind, trying to find answers to the difficult questions of life and death, suffering and salvation.
“I keep thinking about it, how it could have been me,” Akinmola said. “People like me and the other people that survived, it’s not because we’re special or anything. I believe it’s just God wants to keep us alive for whatever the reasons are. It’s by his grace that we’re alive.”