He was stopped and had his turn signal on, waiting to pull into his company’s parking lot. Suddenly, Jerome David’s 18-wheeler was hit so hard, it flung him against his steering wheel.
“It sounded like a bomb went off when she hit me,” David told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.
The 49-year-old still can’t get the images of the Monday afternoon wreck out of his head. Two people — including the driver — were killed and seven others injured when a passenger van carrying disabled adults crashed into the tractor-trailer in Union City, according to investigators. David never saw the van before the crash.
“I felt it hit so hard, it threw me forward,” he said. “I sat in the truck trying to get myself together. When I walked to the back, it was chaos.”
He heard screams and cries for help, but he was unable to open the door of the van, which was badly damaged from the impact. And David was dizzy and his neck was hurting, so he sat on a curb and waited for police and firefighters to arrive.
The tractor-trailer was stopped in a left lane on Royal Parkway waiting to turn left into a parking area of a business, according to the Georgia State Patrol. The van, a Ford Transit, slammed into the right bumper of the rig.
Both the driver, 33-year-old Aquilla Walker of Riverdale, and a passenger, Cyprian Sanders, 25, of Atlanta, died at the scene of the crash, the State Patrol said. Investigators believe Walker was following too closely to the tractor-trailer.
Walker was a staff member with InCommunity, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta that supports adults with developmental disabilities and their families. She was taking a group of program participants home from the organization’s day center off Buffington Road.
“It’s very heartbreaking as you can imagine,” said Amanda McPhail, the director of community relations at InCommunity. “We have lost two members of our community, both as our work family and as our friends.”
It was a daily trip for Walker, who worked as a direct care provider helping with the activities of daily living and transportation to and from the center. Her passengers, all of whom were either intellectually or physically disabled, were on their way back home to their families or to group homes.
McPhail said the organization often serves people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.
“Our staff becomes their family. And they become our family,” McPhail said Wednesday afternoon.
Funeral arrangements were pending for Walker and Sanders, McPhail said.
Six of the other passengers, ranging in age from 24 to 55, were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital with injuries, according to investigators. All reside in the Southside communities of Union City, Fairburn and College Park, the GSP said. All but two people were treated and released by Tuesday evening, McPhail said. One injured passenger is from Atlanta, and an eighth passenger, who is from Palmetto, was not taken to the hospital. Everyone in the van was wearing a seat belt, the GSP said.
Among those injured was Jacob Hogues, 27, of Fairburn, his family’s attorney told The AJC.
“Jacob was lucky to escape this horrific collision with survivable injuries. Others were not as fortunate,” attorney Zachary Shewmaker said in an emailed statement. “Jacob and his family offer their deepest condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones and hope the remaining passengers recover quickly and fully.”
Shewmaker said the family, like others involved in the crash, are now awaiting the findings from the State Patrol. David says he’s been unable to sleep since the wreck, and he’s heartbroken for the families of the two people killed.
“Every time I think about it, I just get sick at my stomach,” he said. “It messed my life up and it messed their lives up.”
The crash remained under investigation late Wednesday.
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