LAWRENCEVILLE - The attorney for a Gainesville man arrested Tuesday for causing perhaps the deadliest crash ever on Interstate 85 in Gwinnett called the arrest "a knee-jerk reaction" on the part of Gwinnett police.
Cody Rhoden, 20, turned himself in late Tuesday, his lawyer in tow, after police secured warrants for his arrest, police said. He faces a slew of charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide, hit-and-run and one count of serious injury by vehicle. He remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.
Witnesses told police Rhoden was driving erratically northbound on I-85 on Monday night just before the multi-vehicle accident that left four people dead - including three members of the same family en route to Lawrenceville from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Rhoden was speeding and weaving through traffic, witnesses told police. After an interview with Rhoden the following night, investigators had sufficient evidence to charge him with 10 separate counts, police said.
Rhoden's attorney, Jeffrey Sliz, said his client was driving home Monday night from the Atlanta Braves' home opener. He left in the eighth inning, heading to Gainesville with a friend identified only as "Josh," Sliz said. That person has not been charged in the accident.
Sliz spoke to reporters outside his Lawrenceville office Wednesday, flanked by members of Rhoden's extended family. Sliz acknowledged his client's involvement in the crash but questioned his guilt.
According to Sliz, Rhoden was driving his red 2002 Acura Integra in the HOV lane when he was struck by the black SUV carrying the Lawrenceville family. Rhoden's vehicle spun to a stop only yards from the Indian Trail-Lilburn Road exit, where he then drove off I-85 and parked the vehicle at the Guesthouse International Inn and Suites in Norcross. Police, tipped off by a night manager, found the car there hours later.
"He was scared to death, lucky to be alive," Sliz said of his client. "Our intentions have never been to hide the car or the person. We're not going to sit here and say we're culpable or not culpable - we don't know."
Rhoden is expected to appear in Gwinnett Magistrate Court for an initial hearing at 9 a.m. today, where a judge will read his charges and set a probable cause hearing date, a court representative said.
Sliz said he won't file a motion for bond until police finish an accident report and causation is determined.
Gwinnett County Police Department crime analysts said the quadruple fatality is the deadliest single crash in the history of Gwinnett's busiest roadway, Gwinnett police spokesperson Cpl. Illana Spellman said.
A Georgia Department of Transportation representative said a fatal crash of that magnitude hasn't occurred on I-85 in at least 15 years.
The massive collision closed the entire northbound roadway for hours.
Four of the seven occupants in the black 2003 Ford Excursion died, including a Lawrenceville woman, her 13-month-old son and her 14-year-old brother, who attended Peachtree Ridge High School, police said.
They were identified Tuesday as Whitney Randle, her son Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley and brother Alexander Randle.
The SUV's driver, Mark Anthony Gay, 44, was also killed.
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.
Only Demetrius Randle - the father of two killed and grandfather of one - remained hospitalized Wednesday at Gwinnett Medical Center. Parts of his body "have been rendered useless as a result of the collision," according to Rhoden's arrest warrant.
Peachtree Ridge High School held a moment of silence Tuesday for Alexander Randle, who was a freshman. A Randle family spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Gwinnett commuters continued to feel the accident's aftermath Wednesday.
Police shut down multiple lanes of I-85 for about 11/2 hours Wednesday morning to reconstruct the accident, causing a miles-long snare for northbound commuters. Investigators surveyed the crash site to prepare drawings that can be used in court as evidence, Spellman said.
Sliz said police findings should exonerate his client. He said police were aware of Rhoden's whereabouts on Tuesday - the day investigators said they were trying to link the red Acura to a suspect.
Sliz and his client waited until Tuesday evening to come to police headquarters to allow police who were working on little sleep time to rest, he said.
Rhoden works as an automotive technician at Gainesville Tire Service, which his family owns. His manager there declined comment. He graduated from Apalachee High School in Winder and grew up a baseball fanatic in Auburn's little leagues, his family said.
Carmon Rhoden, the suspect's father, said his son recently lowered his car and added 20-inch wheels - alterations that would make speeds in excess of 100 mph impossible, as some witnesses claimed, he said.
"It's a stock engine - the car won't run that speed," said Rhoden.
Rhoden's only run-ins with police have been two traffic tickets - a speeding ticket on the day he got his driver's license and a later traffic light violation, both in Hall County, his father said.
Wendy Rhoden, the suspect's mother, offered her sympathies to the Randle family but maintained that her son is a "very confident driver" who wouldn't "be weaving in and out," she said.
"I'm so remorseful and I'm so sorry for that family," Wendy Rhoden said.
Friends of the Randle family have established a memorial fund to cover funeral costs.
Donations can be made to the Randle Family Memorial Fund at Georgia Trust Bank by either visiting the bank or mailing a check to 2725 Mall of Georgia Blvd., Buford, GA 30519. For more information, call 770-614-7644.
SideBar: Timeline of events
· 8:44 p.m. - Emergency workers are dispatched to a multiple vehicle crash on Interstate 85 northbound between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Indian Trail-Lilburn Road. Authorities close all northbound lanes. Two people are pronounced dead at the scene.
· 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. - Danny Kiles, a night manager at Guesthouse International Inn and Suites in Norcross, says a man in his 50s asks permission to leave a red Acura in the hotel's parking lot.
· 10:50 p.m. - Two lanes of traffic are reopened by authorities.
· 11:30 p.m. - All lanes are reopened.
· Shortly after midnight - Gwinnett police respond to the hotel after Kiles hears a description of the car that allegedly caused the deadly crash, which matches the vehicle in the hotel's parking lot. He walks outside and notices the car is missing its bumper and looks as if it has been in an accident. Police obtain search warrants and process the vehicle for evidence.
· 6 p.m. - Gainesville resident Carmon Cody Rhoden - the alleged driver of the Acura - voluntarily comes to the Gwinnett County Jail with his lawyer to be questioned by investigators regarding the accident.
· 10:41 p.m. - Police obtain warrants for Rhoden's arrest. He is processed and booked into the Gwinnett County Jail. He faces several charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide. He remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.
· 9:45 a.m. - Gwinnett police close multiple lanes of I-85 to reconstruct the accident for evidence.
· 4:30 p.m. - Rhoden's Lawrenceville-based attorney calls a press conference to call his arrest into question. Rhoden's family addresses media.
· 9 a.m. - Rhoden is scheduled to appear in Gwinnett Magistrate Court for an initial hearing.
Compiled by Staff Writers Josh Green and Alex P. Joyner