Murder charges dropped in drag racing case

A Phil­adelphia judge has tossed out murder charges against one of two men whose al­leged street ra­cing on Roosevelt Boulevard led to a high-speed crash that claimed the lives of a moth­er and her three young sons in Ju­ly.

Dur­ing an Oct. 29 pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing, Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge James M. DeLe­on ruled that evid­ence did not sup­port third-de­gree murder charges against Ahmed Hol­lo­man, 30, for the deaths of the four ped­es­tri­ans.

Hol­lo­man, of the 7000 block of Souder St. in Castor Gar­dens, still faces tri­al on four counts of hom­icide by vehicle while DUI, five counts of reck­less en­dan­ger­ment and re­lated of­fenses. Mean­while, the judge up­held third-de­gree murder charges against Hol­lo­man’s co-de­fend­ant, Khusen Akhmedov, 23, of Lan­caster.

The vic­tims in­cluded Samara Banks, 27, of Felton­ville, and her sons Saa’deem Griffin, 4; Saa’sean Wil­li­ams, 23 months; and Saa’mir Wil­li­ams, 7 months. Banks’ 5-year-old son, Saa’yon Griffin, mi­ra­cu­lously avoided the col­li­sion and was un­injured.

“If my cli­ent was driv­ing like a fool right be­fore (the crash), a day be­fore or a month be­fore, that’s ir­rel­ev­ant here,” Hol­lo­man’s at­tor­ney, Lonny Fish, ar­gued in court.

After the hear­ing, Fish told re­port­ers that Hol­lo­man had slowed his car to exit the Boulevard be­fore Akhmedov struck the ped­es­tri­ans.

“(Hol­lo­man) was go­ing to turn on 3rd Street. He was not ra­cing the oth­er de­fend­ant at the time,” Fish said. “My cli­ent is still very re­morse­ful.”

Hol­lo­man tested pos­it­ive for marijuana that night and was im­paired at the time of the crash, ac­cord­ing to a forensic tox­ic­o­lo­gist’s testi­mony.

The crash oc­curred on Ju­ly 16 at about 10:30 p.m. in the south­bound lanes of the Boulevard near 2nd Street. Dur­ing last week’s hear­ing, nu­mer­ous wit­nesses test­i­fied that Hol­lo­man and Akhmedov ap­peared to be ra­cing one an­oth­er in the mo­ments be­fore Akhmedov’s 2012 Audi S4 plowed in­to Banks and her boys, who were cross­ing the busy 12-lane road on foot with a stroller.

Hol­lo­man brought his 1994 Honda Civic to a halt without strik­ing any­one. Both mo­tor­ists re­mained at the scene un­til au­thor­it­ies ar­rived. 

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Lipscomb ar­gued that Hol­lo­man was an ac­cess­ory in the killings.

“You have to look at the to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances,” Lipscomb said. “The fact is, both de­fend­ants were treat­ing Roosevelt Boulevard in a res­id­en­tial sec­tion as their own per­son­al race­way.”

Four pro­sec­u­tion wit­nesses test­i­fied that they first no­ticed Hol­lo­man’s white Honda sev­er­al blocks be­fore the crash as it sped from red light to red light ahead of a pack of mo­tor­ists in the in­ner south­bound lanes. 

Ie­sha Aikens heard the car’s loud, raspy ex­haust. A bright pink brack­et un­der­neath the rear bump­er also caught her at­ten­tion.

“It was mak­ing a lot of noise — vroom, vroom, vroom,” said Aikens, who was a pas­sen­ger in a trail­ing car driv­en by a friend. “He’s rev­ving the en­gine and when the light turns green, he takes off.”

Start­ing at F Street, Hol­lo­man beat traffic to two en­su­ing red lights. On the way to the next in­ter­sec­tion, Aikens saw a sil­ver car, Akhmedov’s Audi, ad­vance from the back of the pack and start chas­ing the Honda.

The two speed­ing vehicles weaved around oth­er cars and each oth­er as they caught a green light at Mascher Street and dis­ap­peared over a rise in the road, ac­cord­ing to Aikens. Her friend, Eu­gene Townes, also saw trouble brew­ing.

“The Audi was right be­hind the Honda and they were dip­ping in and out of traffic,” Townes test­i­fied. “(Aikens) said, ‘Look at those two fools. That’s the mak­ings of an ac­ci­dent.’”

An­oth­er mo­tor­ist, Am­ber To­m­osky, test­i­fied that she also wit­nessed the loud Honda and sil­ver Audi en­gage in what ap­peared to be an im­promptu street race. At one point, the cars were side-by-side, then they dis­ap­peared in­to the dis­tance. To­m­osky test­i­fied that the cars ap­peared to reach speeds of 80 mph. Hear­ing that, both de­fend­ants turned to each oth­er at the de­fense table and shook their heads in deni­al.

Po­lice Of­ficer Wil­li­am Lack­man, an ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion ex­pert, later test­i­fied that Akhmedov was driv­ing in the far left lane and jerked the steer­ing wheel sharply to the right as his car struck the vic­tims. Banks’ body came to rest 210 feet from the point of im­pact in the street. The blow launched her body at 79 mph, Lack­man said.

The Audi was still trav­el­ing at 73 mph when Akhmedov slammed on the brakes and skid­ded across three lanes of as­phalt, over a curb, across a grass me­di­an and in­to the south­bound out­er lanes, Lack­man said. Po­lice found no skid marks from the Honda.

Two of the in­jured boys landed in the grassy cen­ter me­di­an as did a stroller, 96 feet from the point of im­pact. A wit­ness picked up the third fatally in­jured boy and handed him to Aikens be­fore para­med­ics ar­rived. Shoes, a pock­et­book, toys, di­apers and pools of blood also marked the scene, Lack­man said. Banks and her 23-month-old son died at the scene. The 7-month-old and 4-year-old died at area hos­pit­als with­in hours.

While there is no evid­ence that Hol­lo­man and Akhmedov met be­fore­hand to plan a race, or that they even knew each oth­er, Lipscomb ar­gued that both were will­ing par­ti­cipants in a race. In fact, Hol­lo­man’s car had been mod­i­fied for that pur­pose, ac­cord­ing to an­oth­er po­lice in­vest­ig­at­or.

De­tect­ive John Lo­gan of the Ma­jor Crimes Auto Squad test­i­fied that the Honda had a cus­tom en­gine, along with af­ter­mar­ket head­ers, air fil­ter, ex­haust and sus­pen­sion. The bright pink brack­et on the rear bump­er was a tow hitch that street racers typ­ic­ally use to ad­vert­ise they’re “ready to go,” Lo­gan said.

At about 2,200 pounds, the Honda pro­duced horsepower in the “mid- to up­per 120 range,” Lo­gan said. It would have been rated at 102 horsepower com­ing off the as­sembly line.

By com­par­is­on, Akhmedov’s stock Audi would have been rated at 277 horsepower and about 3,700 pounds. So, Lo­gan said, the Honda might have been able to hold its own against the Audi between traffic lights, but the Audi would’ve had the up­per hand over a longer dis­tance.

In a state­ment to po­lice soon after the crash, Akhmedov al­legedly said he was trav­el­ing at no more than 55 mph when he spot­ted the ped­es­tri­ans in the street. He claimed that the white Honda was along­side him in the cen­ter lane.

Fish dis­puted that ac­count, not­ing that had Hol­lo­man been along­side Akhmedov, the Audi would’ve struck the Honda when it skid­ded across the road­way. Also, the Honda stopped well short of the skid­ding Audi.

Akhmedov’s at­tor­ney, Todd Ed­ward Henry, ar­gued that his cli­ent didn’t in­tend to hurt any­one, that he tried to avoid the crash and that it was a ter­rible ac­ci­dent.

The de­fend­ants will be ar­raigned in Com­mon Pleas Court on Nov. 19. A tri­al date has not been set. ••

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