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. ••