A pickup driver recklessly made his way through two Atlanta-area counties Wednesday as if he were playing bumper cars at an amusement park, leaving a trail of wrecked cars and a dead woman in his wake, according to police and witness reports.
Michael Snider, a 70-year-old man from Stone Mountain, has been charged in the rampage, and police haven't released a motive.
One victim said the driver used his vehicle like a weapon over a roughly 15-mile route starting at the eastern edge of Atlanta and stretching into suburban Snellville, where a 69-year-old passenger was killed. Over a period of about 45 minutes, Snider is suspected of causing five wrecks in DeKalb County and 10 more in Gwinnett County, some of them involving multiple vehicles.
The wreckage started about 7:35 p.m. Wednesday when a pickup rammed the rear bumper of a Nissan 350Z sports car at a traffic light at the end of an interstate exit ramp. Based on the time stamp of the police report, it appears to have been the first crash.
"Do you know who I am? I do whatever I want!" the pickup driver said, then got back in his truck and drove off, according to the police report.
Dennis Brown, 26, said he had just left his college class Wednesday evening and was heading home when he saw a gray pickup hit a car behind him and then head toward his vehicle.
"I saw him coming toward me, and he looked like he was trying to hit me," Brown said. "So I just slammed on the gas trying to avoid him, to get away from him."
The truck followed as Brown accelerated and tried to swerve out of the way.
"I was looking at him through my rearview, and he looked possessed," Brown said.
As they approached an intersection, Brown said he saw cars stopped at a red light and had to think fast to avoid hitting them. He had just turned hard, trying to get into a gas station parking lot, when the truck hit his Chrysler Pacifica crossover SUV and sent it spinning out of control.
"I hit my head, and I blanked out for a second, but then I realized, 'Yes, I'm still breathing,'" he said.
David Croft, 52, was sitting at that red light in his Ford Fusion and said he saw Brown's vehicle barreling toward him with the truck in pursuit and then saw the pickup ram the Pacifica.
"I worked my wheel to the left and tried to get out of the way and that's the only thing that kept me from having a total T-bone impact to the side," Croft said.
It's not clear whether the truck then hit the vehicles stopped at the intersection or whether Brown's car spun into them. The police report says the truck hit them, but driver accounts vary.
Croft said he was on his way to deliver food to a homeless shelter and that he now has back pain and a totaled vehicle — but he's happy to be alive and grateful he hadn't brought his wife or 15-year-old daughter as planned.
"I was thankful I had listened to that inner voice of the Holy Spirit and didn't take my wife or daughter with me," he said. "I'm not sure they would have survived the impact."
Tracy Webb, 38, was stopped next to Croft at the red light on her way to Bible study when she heard a loud screech behind her.
"It happened so fast. I just saw headlights and at that moment I knew I was about to be hit, so I kind of braced myself for the hit," she said. "I didn't want to end up in the middle of the intersection. I clutched the wheel and pressed the breaks a little harder."
She's not sure which vehicle hit hers, but the truck was gone by the time an officer who had been stopped on the opposite side of the intersection reached the wrecked vehicles.
J.W. Conroy, interim assistant chief of the DeKalb police, said Friday the officer on the scene called in the hit-and-run, and dispatchers quickly alerted other officers and surrounding jurisdictions.
Manuel Johnson and his wife had stopped on the way home from work so she could have a bite to eat when he noticed a pickup come up close behind his Mercedes. He sped up, and the truck drifted back before accelerating to follow closely again.
"I told my wife, 'That guy is awfully close to us,' and as soon as I said that, he came up really fast and ran into the back of the car," Johnson said.
The truck rammed into them four times before Johnson was able to swerve to the right and the truck went down the road and hit a little red Chevrolet, Johnson said.
"My wife was panicking. She thought we were going to die," he said. "He was using his vehicle as if it was a weapon."
After they checked on the people in the red car and talked to police, Johnson and his wife drove to the hospital and saw multiple banged-up vehicles along the way. Finally, they got to the end of the path of wreckage, where the Ford Super Duty pickup had veered off the road and hit the front of Johnboys Home Cooking restaurant in Snellville.
Minutes before, the truck had slammed into the back of gray Toyota Camry that was slowing down, causing it to hit the vehicle in front of it before it became wedged under a tractor-trailer stopped to its left, killing Mintiwab Woldeyhans, a passenger in the Camry, and leaving the car's driver, 51-year-old Yeshihareg Abebe, in critical condition.
Police arrested Snider after his truck crashed into the restaurant. Police have said they believe alcohol was involved. They've charged Snider with vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, DUI, reckless driving and following too closely. The investigation is ongoing, and more charges are pending, police said.
Snider was released from a hospital and taken to the Gwinnett County Detention Center. He is being held without bond, and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 1, a court clerk said. Gwinnett County court officials say Snider has retained an attorney; however, they said Thursday that they did not know that attorney's identity.