Emily Powell, a Gwinnett County senior magistrate judge who spent more than two decades on the bench, died after a truck hit her Dec. 20 in Buford.
Photo: Family photo
Photo: Family photo

Gwinnett County judge dies after being hit by truck in Buford

Emily Powell — one of Gwinnett County’s original magistrate judges and a beloved mother, grandmother and friend — died on New Year’s Eve, some 11 days after police believe she was hit by a truck while crossing a Buford street.

She was 64. 

“She was the most wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, friend, judge and person,” said Kristina Hammer Blum, Gwinnett County’s chief magistrate. “We will miss her every day.”

As colleagues and loved ones mourned and remembered Powell’s life, questions remained about the incident that ended it.

Gwinnett County police investigators believe Powell was hit around 6 p.m. Dec. 20 while crossing West Moreno Street at South Lee Street, an intersection not far from downtown Buford and its popular restaurants. She was walking to meet her husband and another couple for dinner.

An off-duty paramedic was in the area and assisted Powell in the immediate aftermath of the collision, according to family posts on a CaringBridge page set up to provide updates on her condition. 

“I arrived moments later to find my bride in real distress,” Powell’s husband, Tony, wrote.

An ambulance took the judge to Northside Hospital-Gwinnett with injuries that were initially described as serious.

The driver who allegedly hit Powell, meanwhile, had fled the scene in her F-150 without calling 911. 

Police later located the woman, identified as 41-year-old Obed Arreola-Toledo, and impounded her truck. 

“As officers were investigating the original scene, the driver’s family member approached and discussed the incident with the officers/investigators,” Gwinnett police Cpl. Michele Pihera said in an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

“The circumstances surrounding this incident are still under investigation, including contributing factors and criminal charges.”

An incident report suggests Arreola-Toledo lives about half a mile from the crash scene. As of Thursday afternoon — two days after Powell’s brain injuries claimed her life — Arreola-Toledo had not been charged in connection with the crash.

Police hope to gather as much information about the incident as possible and are encouraging “anyone who witnessed any portion of this incident, or provided any type of aid afterward” to contact investigators at 770-513-5300.

‘So filled with grace’

Powell grew up a minister’s daughter in Richmond, Virginia, and moved to Georgia to attend law school at Mercer University. It was there that she met her future husband, who would become a well-known local attorney and Lawrenceville city councilman.

After the Georgia state legislature created magistrate courts in 1983, Emily Powell was appointed as one of Gwinnett’s original judges. She sat on the bench for more than 20 years before retiring to raise her two children, Jessie and Nathan — but then re-joined the court as a senior judge. 

Blum, the chief magistrate, called Powell the court’s “godmother.” Because of her experience, Powell was routinely tasked with training and mentoring Gwinnett’s newest judges. 

“Thank you Emily for being you,” one of those judges, Angela Duncan, wrote on Facebook this week. “Thank you for your love, support, mentorship. Thank you for being one of the strongest, (most) beautiful women I know so filled with grace.”

Powell loved the beach, knitting and quilting, and her grandchildren. She was active in her church and served as a mock trial coach for Greater Atlanta Christian School.

“As we move so sadly into 2020, we hope to honor Judge Powell in the way she honored those around her,” Blum said. “She always stayed true to what is really important: prioritizing the people she loved, maintaining a servant's heart, and always having an attitude of thankfulness and joy.”

Read and sign the online guestbook for Emily Powell

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