Aspiring deaf rapper killed in hit-and-run

Joseph Gathambiri aspired to be a rapper, even though he had never heard the sound of music.

To write his rhymes, the deaf 25-year-old would find instrumentals on You Tube, plug in his earphones and turn it up. The vibrations tingled his eardrums and gave Gathambiri a beat to guide his lyrics.

Gathambiri nicknamed himself “Deaf Joe” and performed his raps in sign language for co-workers at a Marietta Burger King, where he worked for nearly seven years. He died biking to work the early shift Wednesday morning after being struck by an alleged drunk driver who then speed off, police said.

“He was deaf, but he was very curious,” said his brother, Steven Gathambiri, 22, who was called to the scene by Burger King employees and arrived just as the body was being removed. “He always asked a lot of questions.”

Gathambiri’s death was the second fatal hit-and-run involving a bicyclist in Marietta in less than two weeks. Lawrence Joseph Young, 55, of Marietta, was killed March 31 when he was struck by a sport utility vehicle while riding a bicycle along Powder Springs Street.

Joseph Gathambiri was born in Kenya but moved to Atlanta seven years ago with his family. His lived with his brother and sister in an apartment less than a mile from the Burger King and biked to work nearly every day. Police said Gathambiri was following all of the legal cycling requirements and was using reflectors when he was struck and killed before 5 a.m. in front of the Cobb Community Transit bus terminal on South Marietta Parkway.

Police arrested Damon Thomas Lautch, 27, on Wednesday afternoon, and charged him with hit and run, DUI and first degree vehicular homicide, according to police spokesman Michael Gardner. Evidence on the scene and a tip to Marietta police helped investigators locate at a west Marietta home the black Toyota truck believed to be involved in the incident.

The Gathambiri family attended the Kenyan American Community Church in Marietta, where G.G. Gitahi is pastor. He said the community is grieving, but happy the suspect was arrested by police.

“He was a beautiful, charming kid,” Gitahi said of Gathambiri. “He was a hard worker, as you can see because he was going to work at 5 a.m. He was a good young man.”

Gathambiri’s death is the latest tragedy for the family. Joseph Gathambiri’s sister died in 2010 and father in 2011. His mother still lives in Kenya. The family hasn’t made funeral arrangements, said Steven Gathambiri.

Burger King employees told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Gathambiri was a cook at the restaurant. Co-worker Linda Moore said she saw the accident investigation on her way to work.

“He couldn’t talk to you, but he did do sign language or he would write down notes,” Moore said. “He was always a helping person, always willing to give a helping hand. Anytime you needed Deaf Joe, if we were short-handed, he was always there.”

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Photographer John Spink contributed to this story.