LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett police investigator, in testimony Friday, said Carmon Cody Rhoden was drinking alcohol just hours before Rhoden erratically sped down Interstate 85 in excess of 100 mph and triggered a wreck which killed four people and injured three.
Officer J.W. Lundgren said police interviewed nearly 29 witnesses who saw Rhoden's 2002 red Acura RSX pass cars in a "suicidal" manner on the interstate "like they were standing still" on the evening of March 31. Perhaps most condemning was a statement a family friend of Rhoden's passenger that night gave police in which he said he witnessed Rhoden, 20, consume as many as five beers before the Atlanta Braves' home opener.
Four of the seven occupants in a black 2003 Ford Excursion died in the collision, including a Lawrenceville woman, Whitney Randle, her 13-month-old son Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley and Whitney's 14-year-old brother Alexander Randle.
As of Friday, the woman's father remained in critical condition at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Authorities say Rhoden fled the scene and dumped his damaged Acura at a nearby hotel. He turned himself in a day after the crash when police secured warrants for his arrest.
Chief Magistrate Judge George Hutchinson found evidence Friday to bind all 10 charges against Rhoden, including four counts of vehicular homicide and hit and run. Rhoden was later denied bond after Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney David Fife said the Gainvesille man was a flight risk and a danger to the public.
Rhoden maintains his innocence. According to attorney Jeffrey Sliz, Rhoden was driving his Acura in the HOV lane when he was struck by the 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 found the car there hours later based on a tip by a night manager.
Lundgren's testimony about the circumstances surrounding the wreck rocked the courtroom several times, as revelations drew audible gasps and muffled shouts from friends and family of the accident victims. About 40 Rhoden supporters were in attendance or outside the courthouse.
Authorities were first notified of the red Acura when it was traveling under Spaghetti Junction about four miles from the scene of the wreck, Lundgren said. Based on emergency call logs between that time and when the accident was reported, police theorize Rhoden was traveling 112 mph as he allegedly swerved in and out of evening traffic.
Based on Lundgren's testimony, a family friend of Josh Kitchens - the 23-year-old Gainesville man who was the passenger in Rhoden's car - had been with Rhoden and Kitchens for two hours at Turner Field the day the wreck occurred. There, the friend witnessed Rhoden drink "four or five" 16 oz. beers. Rhoden also showed Kitchens' friend his Acura, an instance that would prove fateful: While stuck in traffic as a result of the accident, the friend learned from other stranded motorists a red Acura left the scene of the collision. He told police he called Rhoden to check on him, but Rhoden said he was already home.
Following Friday's hearings, Sliz said he has problems with a preliminary accident report which police say proves Rhoden triggered the deadliest single crash in the history of Gwinnett's busiest roadway. The report, Sliz says, corroborates very little because it is physical evidence that conflicts with eye-witness accounts given to investigators.
"We're very early in the process," he said.
Rhoden, dressed Friday in a black oxford shirt and blue jeans, took the stand during his bond hearing following Lundgren's testimony. Asked by Fife if he knew what had happened after the collision, Rhoden replied he wasn't aware the crash was "that big."
Fife alleged Rhoden had an "utter disregard for human life" and was a flight risk.
"He knew he was involved and (he) got the heck out of there," he said.
Following Rhoden's bond denial, Rhoden's brother, Danny, was visibly shaken.
"What," he yelled. "Flight?"
Outside the courtroom, Rhoden's father, Carmon Alexander Rhoden, said his son's situation is "very hard."
"He's not a flight risk," he said. "He's a perfect kid."