Gwinnett police: Drivers were racing at more than 100 mph before 5 teens killed

Surviving driver charged in Labor Day crash
Five teenagers were killed in the Sept. 4 crash in Gwinnett County.

Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department

Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department

Five teenagers were killed in the Sept. 4 crash in Gwinnett County.

Two young drivers were racing each other at speeds of more than 100 mph just moments before a truck plunged onto I-85, killing five teenagers earlier this month, Gwinnett County police said Wednesday.

Only one of the drivers survived the Sept. 4 crash. Emanuel Rene Esfahani, 20, of Lawrenceville, surrendered late Tuesday and has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, according to police.

Esfahani was also charged with reckless driving, racing, speeding, unsafe lane change and a seatbelt violation. He was being held without bond Wednesday at the Gwinnett jail.

The Labor Day wreck killed five teens, including the driver of the 2017 Toyota Tacoma double cab, and injured three others, according to police. Three of those killed were students at Lakeside High School in DeKalb County.

The crash happened shortly before 4 a.m. Investigators believe Hung Nguyen, 18, of Lawrenceville, was driving the truck westbound on Ga. 316 attempting to merge onto I-85.

Just prior to that, investigators believe Esfahani was driving an Infiniti G35 and was racing the Toyota.

“They were speeding in excess of 100 mph on the exit ramp from State Route 316 to Pleasant Hill Road when they came upon a vehicle traveling slower than they were,” a Gwinnett police spokesman said in a statement.

The Toyota passed that vehicle on the left and the Infiniti passed on the right, likely in the right emergency lane, according to investigators. A box truck was stopped in the emergency lane, causing Esfahani to swerve left.

The Infiniti went across the lanes of travel and hit the truck. The Toyota lost traction and began to spin and roll, police said.

“That is when the Tacoma continued to travel right across the lanes, making an impact with the retaining wall,” police said. “The excess speed caused it to carry over the wall and fall to the ramp 37 feet below.”

Two passengers in the truck were ejected in the crash, police said. One was not wearing a seatbelt, but investigators could not determine if the second passenger was wearing one.

Another driver, a 33-year-old DeKalb man, struck one of the victims on the interstate, the crash report stated.

In addition to Nguyen, the crash killed Katie Gaitan, 17, Ashley Gaitan, 16, and Coral Lorenzo, 17, all from Atlanta, and Abner Santana, 19, of Suwanee. All five died at the scene.

Another teen in the truck, an 18-year-old boy, survived with just minor injuries, along with the drivers of the two other vehicles involved, police said. Investigators do not believe alcohol was a factor.

Hours after that crash, a separate wreck killed two Morehouse College students in East Point, according to the Georgia State Patrol. Investigators believe Hugh Douglas and Christion Files Jr. were traveling fast, going south on Church Street. After passing another car in a curve, their vehicle left the road, hit two power poles and overturned near the intersection with Linwood Avenue. Both died at the scene.

During the Labor Day weekend, 21 people in Georgia were killed in crashes, according to the State Patrol.