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Teen dies in 'awful' crash
Police say cars may have been racing, but reports unconfirmed

LAWRENCEVILLE - As Gwinnett County police on Monday continued to investigate a Sunday evening car crash that left a 16-year-old boy dead, students and staff at Peachtree Ridge High School mourned his death.

School district officials said grief counselors were available Monday to speak with the friends and classmates of Zohaib Somani, who was riding in a car that authorities say may have been street racing on Sugarloaf Parkway near Old Norcross Road.

Peachtree Ridge Principal Steve Flynt said in a statement that students and staff were "saddened by this recent tragedy."

"Any time the school suffers such losses, our students and community come together in support of one another," Flynt said in the statement. "Peachtree Ridge counselors, as well as our neighboring schools' counselors, have joined together to provide support for all students affected and to help them cope with this tragic event. Our thoughts, prayers and sympathy are with the family and friends touched by this loss, as well as the entire Peachtree Ridge community."

Somani, who was riding in a 2005 Mazda 6, died at the scene of the accident. The teen was not wearing a seat belt, and he had to be extricated from the vehicle, said Cpl. Illana Spellman, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Family members were resting Monday afternoon and were not available for comment, said a woman who answered the phone at the boy's home.

All that remained at the scene Monday afternoon was a fender in the median and some pink and green neon paint marking the road.

But the evening before, Matthew Weilbacher of Atlanta said he witnessed the chaotic crash, as he sat on the patio of Starbucks with his girlfriend.

"There was a big, huge cloud of smoke and cars flying everywhere," he said.

Weilbacher said he and others rushed to the scene to help, and people were ripping the doors off of cars to help those trapped inside the vehicles. Gasoline had spilled on the road, and people were worried that it would ignite, he said.

"It was pretty bad," he said. "We were all in tears. It was just awful to see."

The incident blocked traffic on Sugarloaf for several hours.

The driver of the Mazda, 18-year-old Sohel Sultan Ismail, was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center on Sunday in critical condition. Ismail is a student at Collins Hill High School, school district officials said.

Ismail was traveling behind a 2003 Honda Accord at about 7 p.m. Sunday when the Honda clipped a 1996 Honda Accord that was making a left-hand turn out of the Sugarloaf Crossing shopping center on Sugarloaf Parkway, according to a police report. The force of that crash sent the 2003 Honda across the median, where the car knocked down a street sign.

Ismail swerved to avoid a collision, but the Mazda entered the westbound lanes of traffic and struck a 2006 Kia Sportage, the police report states. The Kia's driver, 35-year-old Maria Guadalupe Arguelles of Kennesaw, was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

The driver of the 2003 Honda, 17-year-old Akbar A. Byayani, complained of injuries and went to Gwinnett Medical Center for treatment, the police report states, but Spellman said he was not injured. Byayani is a student at Peachtree Ridge High School, school district officials said.

The driver of the 1996 Honda, 44-year-old Loi V. Tran of Milledgeville, and his passenger, 61-year-old Choi Nguyen of Lawrenceville, also complained of injuries, and both were transported to Gwinnett Medical Center, the report states.

Spellman said the contributing factor in the accident was failure to maintain a lane. She said there has been not been confirmation that the cars were racing.

If it is proven that the teen drivers of the Mazda and the 2003 Honda were racing, they could each face a felony charge of first degree vehicular homicide, as well as other traffic charges, Spellman said.

This is the second traffic fatality since mid-October in which street racing may have been a factor. Lawrenceville resident Leonel Vargas, 20, was killed Oct. 14 on Lawrenceville Highway near Sugarloaf Parkway when 15-year-old Jeffrey Kim Aviles lost control of the car he was driving and entered oncoming traffic.