JULIE SHAW Daily News Staff Writer [email protected], 215-854-2592
A 24-YEAR-OLD man accused of killing a mother and three of her kids while allegedly racing another driver on Roosevelt Boulevard two years ago opted yesterday to forgo a jury trial and have a judge hear the case instead.
In exchange for passing on a jury trial, Khusen Akhmedov, if convicted of multiple counts of third-degree murder, would not face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Defense attorney Michael Diamondstein, in his opening statement before Common Pleas Judge Steven Geroff, admitted that Akhmedov’s 2012 silver Audi S4 was the car that smashed into Samara Banks, 27, and three of her young sons as they crossed Roosevelt Boulevard about 10:30 p.m. July 16, 2013.
“It’s beyond all doubt that Mr. Akhmedov’s driving is to blame,” Diamondstein said. “There is no question Mr. Akhmedov was speeding, and if he had been driving slower, the accident wouldn’t have happened.”
But the defense attorney argued that, contrary to the prosecutor’s contention, his client did not commit third-degree murder.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb, in his opening statement, argued that it was third-degree murder and that the evidence will show the “hardness of heart and the sustained recklessness” of the defendant.
The prosecution contends Akhmedov was racing another driver on the Boulevard at the time of the crash.
The defense contends that Akhmedov and the other driver, who did not know one another, were not racing.
Lipscomb said two witnesses in another car, Eugene Townes and Iesha Aikens, were heading south on the inner lanes of the Boulevard, near F Street, that night when they noticed a white Honda Civic with “an especially large exhaust and a pink hook.”
Lipscomb has said the pink tow hook is a sign of someone who wants to race. That car was driven by another man, Ahmen Holloman, of Northeast Philadelphia.
He said Townes and Aikens noticed that Holloman was “revving his engine at every light” and “would peel off at high speeds.”
Farther south on Roosevelt Boulevard, near Mascher Street, they saw Akhmedov’s Audi and then saw the Audi and Honda “weaving in and out [of traffic lanes] at high speeds.”
Townes, who was driving, then saw “something fly up in the air,” Lipscomb said.
What he saw, the prosecutor said, was the debris from Akhmedov’s Audi slamming into Banks, who was pushing a stroller, and three of her four sons.
Banks, of Feltonville, was propelled 210 feet down the Boulevard from the crash scene on the inner, southbound lanes of the Boulevard near 2nd Street, at the border of Olney and Feltonville.
The crash also killed her sons Saa’mir Williams, 7 months; Saa’sean Williams, 23 months; and Saa’deem Griffin, 4.
Banks’ 5-year-old son, Saa’yon Griffin, and her half-sister were also crossing the Boulevard but were not hit.
Diamondstein emphasized to the courtroom, and in particular to the victims’ family members, that in no way was he suggesting that Banks was to blame for crossing the street where she did.
But, he noted that Roosevelt Boulevard is a multi-lane highway that’s “poorly constructed.”
“She [Banks] was crossing a 12-lane highway where Mr. Akhmedov did not know she was going to be,” Diamondstein said. “There was no sign or crosswalk.”
He contended Akhmedov would not have been speeding if he had known Banks and her kids were going to be in the street.
Diamondstein showed the judge statistics indicating that from Jan. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2014, there were 63 fatal crashes on the Boulevard. Nine fatalities occurred within about a half-mile from where Banks and her kids died, he said.
Lipscomb called one witness, Police Officer Yvette Smothers, to the witness stand yesterday. Smothers, of the Traffic Unit, testified that she was driving north on the Boulevard that night when she saw a large group of people on the south side, near Rockland Street, which is near 2nd.
After she turned around and stopped at the scene, she said she saw “two small children laying on the grassy area” or median. She then called for medics.
Later, she said, she saw Banks. “She looked really bad,” Smothers said. “She was bleeding from the mouth.” Asked by Lipscomb if she appeared dead or alive, Smothers replied: “She appeared dead.”
Besides third-degree murder, Akhmedov, most recently of Northeast Philadelphia, is also charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.
Both he and Holloman had stopped their cars at the scene.
Holloman, 32, of Northeast Philadelphia, pleaded guilty on Monday to four counts of vehicular homicide and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison under a negotiated plea deal.
Akhmedov’s trial continues today.