Homicides, traffic deaths up in 2006

LAWRENCEVILLE - Homicides and traffic fatalities in Gwinnett County hit record numbers in 2006.

Last year, 40 homicides were reported in Gwinnett County - three more than the original record set back in 2003, said Ted Bailey, chief forensic investigator with the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office.

As for traffic fatalities, 93 deaths were reported on the road last year, an increase from 86 in 2005 and 88 in 2004, Bailey said.

The number of homicides had decreased slightly in 2005 and 2004, with 34 and 32 respectively, but that trend ended last year, Bailey said.

So what was different in 2006?

With a population of more than 700,000 Gwinnett County residents, police say growth is an obvious factor.

"In this case, both traffic accidents and crime are similar, said Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney. "The more people that inhabit a specific area, the greater the likelihood of crime and traffic collisions.

"(But) there's no real 'cause and effect' answer that explains our homicide rate. If there were, we would be better at preventing them."

One of the 40 reported homicides in Gwinnett involved Johnny Alvenio Culpepper, then 33, of Duluth, who on Sept. 11 allegedly killed his neighbor, 64-year-old Jenny Rider Neville, by stabbing her to death with a knife.

He also reportedly stole her 2003 Toyota Corolla and ATM card and fled to Pennsylvania, where he was later found and extradited back to Gwinnett.

Police in Pennsylvania received a tip from the FBI that Culpepper was staying with his brother in Easton, Pa.

He has since been indicted on murder and other charges.

Another group of deaths involved Khalid Nelson, 27, of Snellville, who police say used a handgun to kill his girlfriend, 31-year-old Roslyn Nicole Tobias of Lawrenceville.

Tobias' body was found in the early morning hours of Dec. 19 and Nelson was shot and killed in a standoff with deputies at his home later that day. Authorities also linked Nelson to another homicide that occurred in DeKalb County.

The increase in traffic fatalities last year was not only for adult drivers, but for teens as well.

Bailey said 22 out of the 93 victims killed in motor vehicle accidents last year were between the ages of 13 and 19.

In 2005, there were 86 traffic fatalities, with 14 of those between the ages of 13 and 19, and in 2004, there were 88 deaths, with six being between 13 and 19.

"In my nine years. ... I can't remember a year when so many teens were killed," Bailey said. "It is a real tragedy."

A traffic fatality on Oct. 26 involved three teens, who were killed in a collision at the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee and Smithtown roads in Suwanee.

Daniel Lei, 17, Daniel Lee, 18, and Ji Cha, 17, were killed in the collision.

With most accidents, driver inattentiveness seems to be a major factor in traffic accidents, police say.

With youngsters behind the wheel, inexperience coupled with inattentiveness can be a deadly combination.

"Driving is not a natural act," Moloney said. "It is a behavior that must be taught. The more vehicles on the roadway, the greater the danger for an inexperienced driver - and therefore everyone else on the roadway."