NORCROSS - The death toll of Monday evening's accident on Interstate 85 increased to four victims Tuesday as the events surrounding what is perhaps the deadliest single crash on I-85 in Gwinnett County in at least three years - and the search for a possible culprit - became more clear.
Authorities believe a vehicle driving erratically on I-85 northbound just south of Indian Trail- Lilburn Road caused a large SUV to swerve, hit the center median of the interstate and overturn. As a result, several other vehicles became involved in the crash, according to Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman.
The vehicle that allegedly prompted the deadly wreck - described as a late-model red Acura Integra with the rear bumper missing - left the scene, she said.
Four of the SUV's seven occupants died, including a Lawrenceville woman, her 13-month-old daughter and her 14-year-old brother, who attended Peachtree Ridge High School, police said. The SUV's driver was also killed.
They were identified Tuesday as Whitney Randle, her daughter Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley and brother Alexander Randle.
The driver of the SUV is identified as Mark Anthony Gay, 44, of Lawrenceville.
The remaining three occupants of the SUV were injured, including the woman's mother, father and fiance. An 11-year-old who was a passenger in a separate vehicle was also hurt, according to police.
Lawrenceville resident Falleen Randle, who was listed Monday night in stable condition at Grady Memorial Hospital, was not at the hospital Tuesday evening, a hospital spokesperson said.
Her husband, Demetrius Randle, remained in critical condition late Tuesday at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Latavius Finley, 22, was discharged Tuesday from GMC, a spokesperson said.
Meherali Hashim, who was a passenger in his father's Toyota, was discharged from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, a spokesperson said. His father, 49-year-old Mehboob Hashim, was not injured.
Spellman said Randle family members were coming home from the airport after a trip when the accident occurred about 8:45 p.m. The SUV, she said, could have been a vehicle used by a paid transportation service.
Investigators believe the Acura was traveling at a high rate of speed and weaving through traffic just prior to the accident, though the exact cause and sequence of events involving the vehicles are still under investigation, Spellman said.
The driver who fled could face charges of first- or second-degree homicide and felony hit and run, she said.
Within a few hours of the incident, authorities caught a break in the hunt for the driver.
Danny Kiles, a night manager at the Guesthouse International Inn and Suites in Norcross, near the accident site, called police after a white man in his early 50s left a red Acura in the hotel's parking lot fitting an eyewitness description.
"He came in and said his son had a flat (tire) and didn't have good keys for the lugs and wanted to drop the car off," Kiles said. He said the man nonchalantly left a business card at the desk with his contact information.
When Kiles went out to the parking lot to look at the car, he noticed it was missing its rear bumper and that the left passenger side "was totaled."
After being processed, authorities determined the vehicle was involved in the crash. It was impounded early Tuesday morning, Spellman said.
As of Tuesday evening, police did not have a suspect, though they were launching an aggressive search for the driver.
Peachtree Ridge High School held a moment of silence Tuesday for Alexander Randle. The 14-year-old was a freshman, a Gwinnett schools spokesperson said.
The school's principal, Steve Flynt, said counselors and staff met with affected students Tuesday to help them cope with grief.
"Our sympathy and our prayers are with the family and friends affected by this tragedy, as well as the entire Peachtree Ridge community," Flynt wrote to parents on the school's Web site.
Emergency medical crews described Monday's scene as "hectic." Upon arrival, they immediately began to triage accident victims. Two died on scene and one had to be cut out of a vehicle, according to Gwinnett fire spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge.
A total of six Gwinnett fire ambulances responded to the call, as well as two engine companies and a ladder truck, he said.
Monday's carnage closed northbound lanes of I-85 between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Indian Trail-Lilburn Road for several hours, backing up traffic well past Spaghetti Junction. Many motorists could be seen outside of their vehicles talking with other commuters.
Just south of the accident, a woman stuck in the traffic went into labor and was assisted by Gwinnett fire paramedics. She was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center, Rutledge said.
Police urge anyone with information about the crash to call the accident investigation unit hotline at 770-513-5048. Anonymous tips are welcome.
Staff Writer Heather Darenberg contributed to this report.