The 28-year-old motorist accused of plowing into three children on an Atlanta sidewalk — killing one of them — had a lengthy criminal history involving drug convictions.
Ryan Lisabeth was charged on Monday with vehicular homicide in the death of 9-year-old Isaiah Ward over the weekend.
Lisabeth, who attempted to speed away after striking the three young boys, was originally arrested on multiple charges, including DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and possession of a controlled substance. Atlanta police on Monday added the vehicular homicide in the first degree charge. Channel 2 Action News reported Lisabeth was denied bond. Police declined to identify what may have been found in his vehicle, saying the case remains under investigation.
But the tragic incident is hardly Lisabeth’s first brush with law enforcement. His record also includes three DUI convictions, a cocaine-related conviction, previous arrests for heroin and an open DUI case that he was scheduled to be sentenced for Monday. Instead, Lisabeth found himself before a judge on the homicide charge. He was in a treatment facility at the time of Friday’s incident, according to Channel 2.
Lisabeth and his attorney released a statement, saying Lisabeth and his family are “deeply concerned for the families of those affected by the horrible car accident this past weekend in Atlanta,” Channel 2 reported. The statement continued: “Mr. Lisabeth and his family remain hopeful for the full recovery of the two boys that were injured in this tragic car accident.”
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Ward was taken off life support Sunday afternoon, his family said during a vigil at the site of the crash near Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and Mayson Turner Road. His older brother, 11-year-old Roland, and the other injured child, 12-year-old Timothy Hood, remained in critical condition late Sunday at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, Channel 2 reported.
Recent drug busts and the installation of police security cameras have cracked down on open-air drug dealing in the city, said Mona Bennett, associate director of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit that operates a free, twice-a-week needle exchange program in a gritty Atlanta neighborhood called the Bluff, near where the incident took place.
“We are seeing drug sellers scattering,” she said. “We are seeing fewer people dealing drugs openly. There is not the outdoor drug market that it used to be.”
Others who work in the area say, however, that the area still is plagued by the drug trade.
“It’s dangerous out here, really dangerous,” said Anthony Williams, a security guard at Bright Futures a private school on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. “That’s what’s going on out here, ‘the business.’ Everybody’s out here doing all types of drugs.”
The neighborhood where the children were struck, Washington Park, is among the most blighted in Atlanta. It’s also just a mile and a half west of the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown. The skyscrapers of midtown are in view. Washington Park, along with the adjacent Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods, have been the focus of numerous revitalization attempts. While there are longtime working-class residents there, the area has become a haven for drug dealing and other crime.
Williams said he felt it wasn’t the sort of neighborhood where children can safely play outside their homes and out of sight of their parents.
“If you’re gonna let your kids come outside and have some free time, you’ve got to be out here chaperoning or watching them,” Williams said.
On Monday morning, children about Isaiah’s age were playing in the school yard of KippWays Academy, another heavily-gated charter school just a short walk away from the scene of the crash. The boulevard is dotted on both sides with rundown apartment buildings, grimy corner markets and boarded up buildings. A makeshift memorial to Isaiah of candles, stuffed toy animals and signs punctuates the boulevard’s bleakness. Williams said gunshots are a common sound in the neighborhood, and crime is such a concern that his school’s campus is guarded 24-hours a day.
“We had a window get hit the other day,” Williams said, his gun holstered on his hip. “But I know at the end of the day, God has got his arm around us.”