Attorney: Suspect in Atlanta fatal car crash got “threats on his life”

Ryan Lisabeth has received “threats on his life” since he was charged with driving under the influence of heroin and smashing his car into three boys in Northwest Atlanta, allegedly killing one, his attorney said in a court hearing Monday.

Ashleigh Merchant said her client has been moved to solitary confinement at the Fulton County Jail for his protection. The threats came after Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told the news media that his office was investigating whether Lisabeth should face a more severe charge, Merchant said. Howard told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is looking into whether Lisabeth intentionally drove up on the sidewalk where the three boys were standing near Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and Mayson Turner Road.

“Since that happened he has had a number of threats on his life,” Merchant told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shukura Ingram Millender. “He has actually had to be moved into protective custody to the point where he… has absolutely no human interaction whatsoever.”

Merchant asked the judge for Lisabeth to be released on bond into a treatment facility, perhaps in Alpharetta, saying it was not safe for him in the Fulton jail.

“Not just the inmates but the guards as well,” she said, referring to unspecified “comments” that have been directed toward Lisabeth since Howard spoke to the news media. “He has been placed in solitary for his own protection because they heard the threats. They have determined that there is an issue there.”

A spokeswoman for the Fulton jail had no immediate comment Monday.

Pete Johnson, Fulton’s deputy district attorney, objected to allowing Lisabeth to be released on bond, citing his extensive criminal record. He said Lisabeth has two DUI convictions — one in Cherokee County from 2010 and one in Canton from 2007 — on his record, not three as was reported in court last month. Lisabeth, however, was found not guilty of a DUI charge in Fulton State Court in March.

“If this defendant is allowed to be on bond,” Johnson said, “it is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when he will use drugs again and get behind the wheel and kill someone else, maybe himself or others — other children, other adults.

Millender denied bond for Lisabeth but scheduled a May 10 court hearing to determine if he should be detained somewhere other than the Fulton jail.

Wearing an impassive expression and a blue jail uniform, Lisabeth chatted quietly with Merchant and paid close attention to the hearing. He is facing multiple charges in the April 15 incident, including vehicular homicide in the first degree, driving under the influence of heroin and possession of heroin. He allegedly injected heroin minutes before his 2009 Red Toyota Corolla struck the three boys, a police report shows.

Also in Monday’s court hearing, a police officer who investigated the accident scene said a syringe and a bag of heroin were found in Lisabeth’s car. Senior Patrol Officer Tom Gleason said Lisabeth was unresponsive and his car was locked after he crashed it into two vehicles and the boys. Authorities, Gleason said, had to smash his window to open his door and then they pulled him out of the car. After he was detained, Gleason said Lisabeth told him he bought the heroin somewhere nearby off Joseph E. Boone Boulevard.

“He began to tell me he had come down to the area to purchase drugs,” Gleason said. “He had been clean for some time, relapsed, was attempting to get clean again and he just felt like he needed something to help him sleep. He had purchased some heroin and… he had shot up at 6:45 just prior to getting into his vehicle and driving.”

Lisabeth’s parents, David and Debbie, sat in the second row, observing their son.

“Our hearts are going out to the families of the children,” Debbie Lisabeth said. “We are praying for everybody.”

Last week, friends and family held a heavily attended funeral service for Isaiah Ward, 9, who was killed in the crash. His older brother, 11-year-old Roland, suffered a broken pelvis and a broken leg. A friend, Timothy Hood, 13, recently came out of a coma and is recovering from a broken leg at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta, said his mother, Teresa Lawrence, who attended Monday’s hearing. Like the Ward family, Lawrence is now working with a private attorney. She said her son could face a year of rehabilitation once he is released from the hospital, given a brain injury he sustained.

“My son is fighting and there is nothing I can do,” she said. “I am changing his Pampers. I am looking at him and he is barely responding. But he is holding on and that gives me hope.”

Asked about Lisabeth’s fate, she said she had no mercy for him.

“I want the full justice done to him,” she said. “It needs to be.”

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