Philadelphia Police last night announced the arrest of Khusen Akhmedov, 23, of Lancaster, and said he was the driver of the 2012 Audi that smashed into Banks, 27, as she and her four sons - ages 5, 4, 23 months and 9 months - crossed at 2nd Street just before 10:30 p.m. The impact flung her about 200 feet, crumpled the baby's stroller and left the children bloodied and broken.
Also arrested was Ahmen Holloman, 30, of Souder Street near Tyson Avenue in Northeast Philly's Castor section. Police said he was driving the competing car in the alleged drag race, a Honda.
Akhmedov and Holloman both were charged with four counts of the following: homicide by vehicle, third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. They also were charged with five counts of recklessly endangering another person, one count of aggravated assault, simple assault and aggravated assault by vehicle.
'She's very careful'
"When she crosses with the kids, she hits one island at a time, and always has their hands," said her stepfather, Walter Holmes. "She's very careful."
Banks and her 23-month-old son Saa'sean Williams were dead at the scene. The baby, Saa'mir Williams, died less than an hour later at Albert Einstein Medical Center. Saa'deem Griffin, 4, died just before 5 a.m. yesterday at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.
The fourth brother, Saa'yon Griffin, 5, was treated for bumps and bruises but was back yesterday morning at the home he shared with his brothers, his mom and two uncles at C and Courtland streets, where dozens of relatives gathered to grieve and support the young survivor.
"The doctors said he might have nightmares," Holmes said of the boy, whom he described as "quiet" by nature. "He puts his hands over his head [covering his ears] when he hears any talk about it."
The kids' great-grandmother Janice Lawson sobbed as she stood outside, accepting relatives' hugs. "They were beautiful kids," she said.
A witness told police that the man had been racing a motorist driving a 1994 Honda moments before hitting Banks and her brood. There is no traffic light nor painted crosswalk where the family crossed, but it is considered an unmarked crosswalk because a sidewalk bisects the traffic island there.
Yesterday afternoon, Carlos Garcia, who lives in a rowhouse on the boulevard near where Banks and the boys were hit, stared across six lanes of fast-moving traffic at the balloons, teddy bears and flower memorials that have popped up near the places where each of the bodies came to rest after the violent impact.
"I heard the car coming fast, and he hit the brakes, but he couldn't stop," said Garcia, 21, who had been smoking a cigarette outside his house at the time. "I heard this boom, and as soon as the car hit the girl, she flew over 100 feet."
Garcia said he and other neighbors rushed to aid the victims, but it was too late.
"I ran across the street, but police did a good job. Police came right away," he said. "I tried to help, but there wasn't much to help, because the mom was dead, the baby was dead."
That an alleged street-racer mowed down Banks and her children enraged their relatives, who said the boulevard often lures illegal racers, dirt-bikers and ATV riders who regularly endanger pedestrians and legal motorists.
But Banks' grandmother, Sherrill Holmes, found small comfort in one thing: "At least [the driver] had sense enough to stay. Usually they keep on going, they don't even stop. At least he took responsibility for it."
Family's tragic history
Relatives said Banks' death left a gaping hole in a family still reeling from other tragedies.
Banks' mother died after an illness in 2007, prompting Banks, then just 21, to take in four of her younger siblings. Such nurturing was second nature to Banks, who has worked in day care.
"She was like their second mom. Their second mom's gone now," said Banks' aunt Latanya Attaway. "We have a big family, and Samara is a very strong woman. She's a great mom and the role model for her cousins."
In January, Banks lost her father, Darrell Banks, 47, when a police officer fatally shot him in North Philadelphia. Police at the time said Darrell Banks matched the description of an armed home-invasion suspect; he took off running and pointed an object at officers who tried to stop him.
But relatives say the father of 10 was unarmed and returning home from a family birthday party. The family met with a newly hired attorney on Saturday to discuss the case, Attaway said.
Despite the family's history of tragedy, many relatives preferred to remember Banks as the smiling, child-loving woman who would do anything to get her kids smiling, too.
"My cousin was the kind of mother who did everything with her kids," said Troy Felder, 28. "She took them to the movies, the park, the zoo. They enjoyed life to the fullest."
The day she died was no different.
She took the kids to her aunt's home, where they spent the day playing in a makeshift fountain from an open fire hydrant on the block while their mother and her cousins planned a bash next month to commemorate her father and celebrate her sons' birthdays. She was the life of the party, said cousin Stacey Lawson, who had spent Tuesday with Banks.
"We were just laughing [on Tuesday]," Lawson, 22, said as tears welled in her eyes. "She was a nice, sweet person. She was there when you needed her."
"There's nothing bad to say about her," said stepfather Holmes, 43. "I know people always say that when someone passes. But with her, it's really true."
Donations for Banks' family and surviving son can be made to the Memorial Fund for Samara Banks and Children, at any Wells Fargo branch, or by calling Wells Fargo at 267-463-2083.
On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo
- Staff writer Solomon Leach
contributed to this report.