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Lawyer of suspect in fatal I-85 wreck says client will be proven innocent

Family claims incident was not their son’s fault

POSTED: April 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Cody Rhoden

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LAWRENCEVILLE — The family of a Gainesville man facing felony charges in connection with a Monday night wreck on Interstate 85 that killed four people, including three members of another family, said he will be cleared.

"I’m so sorry for that family," a tearful Wendy Rhoden, mother of 20-year-old Cody Rhoden, told reporters at a news conference held Wednesday outside the law offices of Lawrenceville defense attorney Jeffrey Sliz. "But I feel like in the end justice will prevail, and it will show it wasn’t his fault."

Cody Rhoden will make his first appearance before a judge this morning in Gwinnett County magistrate court on four felony counts of vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving and felony hit and run. He remains in the Gwinnett County Detention Center without bond following his arrest shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Rhoden, accompanied by his attorney, spoke with Gwinnett County police Tuesday prior to his arrest.

Police say Rhoden’s erratic driving triggered a wreck that killed limousine driver Mark Anthony Gay, 44, Whitney Randle, 21, her brother, Alexander Randle, 14, and Whitney Randle’s 1-year-old son, Kayden Alexander Randle-Finley. All are from Lawrenceville.

Gay was driving the Randle family home from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in an SUV limousine when it swerved and flipped on I-85 just south of Indian Trail Road in Norcross about 8:45 p.m. Monday.

Cody Rhoden lives in an apartment off Thompson Bridge Road and works as an automotive technician at the family business, Gainesville Tire Service, his father, Carmon Rhoden said. Cody Rhoden attended Apalachee High School in Winder, near his parents’ home in Bethlehem.

"He’s a good kid," Carmon Rhoden said. "He’s never had problems with being reckless, in no way, shape or form."

Carmon Rhoden said his son had been ticketed twice in Hall County; once for speeding 55 mph in a 45 mph, another for running a red light. Both citations were issued when he was 16, Rhoden said.

Witnesses told Gwinnett police that a red and primer-gray Acura without a bumper was speeding along I-85 at speeds of up to 100 mph and darting in and out of traffic shortly before the crash.

A car matching that description was left in the parking lot of the Guesthouse Inn on Willow Trail Parkway, near the accident scene, police said.

Carmon Rhoden said his son called him after the crash and asked him to pick him up at the motel. The father said he left a card with the motel’s night manager and that his son never realized a fatal wreck occurred.

"He didn’t see the scene; he did not know the crash had happened," Carmon Rhoden said.

Sliz, Rhoden’s attorney, said his client had driven in and out of the HOV lane on I-85 when he was struck in the side by a dark-colored SUV and his front right tire went down, sending the Acura sliding out of control to the right. Sliz said a passenger riding with Rhoden, who he could only identify as a friend of Rhoden’s named "Josh" should corroborate his client’s version of events.

Rhoden and his friend had left an Atlanta Braves game early and were driving back to Gainesville when the wreck occurred, according to Sliz.

Five others were injured in the three-car accident, including three survivors in the limousine.

Demetrius Randle, 49, the father of Whitney and Alexander Randle, was in critical condition at Gwinnett Medical Center, while Whitney Randle’s fiancee, Latavius Finley, 22, was in stable condition at the hospital, police said. Whitney and Alexander Randle’s mother, Falleen Randle, was treated and discharged from Grady Memorial Hospital.

Meharali Hashim, an 11-year-old passenger in a Toyota that was caught up in the crash, was in stable condition at Children’s Health Care of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, police said.

Efforts to reach members of the Randle family were unsuccessful. A phone message left with Falleen Randle’s sister, Suliana Chandler of Buford, was not immediately returned.

Sliz, who referred to himself and his client in the collective "we," said he was still waiting on a police accident recreation to determine what caused the wreck.

"We’re not going to sit here and say we’re culpable or not culpable," Sliz said. "We simply don’t know. All we know is our vehicle was struck — we didn’t run into somebody. And once our vehicle was struck, we lost control, and that may have triggered it. We’re not sure what happened behind us, because we didn’t see it. We’re waiting for the investigation, too."

Bond is not expected to be set for Rhoden this morning. Sliz said he would ask a judge for a bond hearing.



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