Drag racer gets 17-34 years in deaths of four

Audi belonging to Khusen Akhmedov, who has been found guilty of third-degree murder in the 2013 drag-racing crash that killed a Northeast mother and three of her four children.

Sean Williams seemed unable to find words to convey his grief.

"It just hurts - all my boys," Williams, tears running down his cheeks, told Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Geroff on Monday.

It was Williams' victim-impact statement at the sentencing of Khusen Akhmedov, 25, a Lancaster man found guilty of four counts of third-degree murder in a July 16, 2013, drag-racing crash that killed a Northeast Philadelphia mother and three of her four children as they crossed Roosevelt Boulevard.

Geroff sentenced Akhmedov to 17 to 34 years in prison for killing 27-year-old Samara Banks and her sons Saa'mir Williams, 7 months; Saa'sean Williams, 23 months; and Saa'deem Griffin, 4.

Banks' oldest son, Saa'yon Griffin, 5, survived when he and Banks' younger sister, Laporcha Jones, then 14, stepped onto a grass median strip a moment before the others were hit.

Banks' aunt, Latanya Byrd, described Saa'yon's difficulties in school and at home because of the crash: "He said, 'I don't want to be strong. I'm tired of being strong. I want my mother, I want my brothers.' "

The sentence, however, was overshadowed by the scene that preceded it.

While only two of the dead boys were Williams' biological children, Williams said he was a father to all of Banks' children.

"I can't hold my boys, I can't play with my boys no more," Williams told Geroff.

"[Akhmedov] still will be able to see his 5-year-old son," Williams said. "He'll be able to see his wife and family. I have to go to the cemetery."

Geroff said he wanted a break to think about the sentence he would impose.

Then, one by one, Akhmedov's family approached Williams as he leaned against a courtroom wall. First it was the parents, Azim and Nazira, immigrants from Uzbekistan, then the grandmother, Rahmat Akhmedova, each offering condolences and apologies and embracing the grieving father.

It continued through the 20-minute recess as the families intermingled, trying to make sense of what the judge later called "the enormity of your loss."

Geroff called Akhmedov a "good candidate for rehabilitation" and cited his "sincere remorse" for the deadly crash.

"But first, his criminal conduct must be addressed," Geroff said.

Geroff noted that Akhmedov had a history of speeding and aggressive driving, and had been warned by a Lancaster County police officer eight days before the crash.

Geroff rejected Akhmedov's description of the tragedy as an accident.

"This was drag-racing on a public highway, your desire to win that race," the judge said.

"The community has to be protected from this young man, who for the time he held a driver's license showed he had no respect for the rules of the road," said Geroff, who convicted Akhmedov in July after a nonjury trial.

Akhmedov could have been sentenced to life without parole because he was convicted of more than one count of third-degree murder. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb did not press for that sentence; he asked for a state guidelines sentence of six to 40 years in prison for each victim.

Testifying before the packed courtroom, Akhmedov apologized over and over to his victims' families and asked them to forgive him.

"I am most sorry that you lost your loved ones and the three angels that left your house," Akhmedov said in a halting, accented voice. "God bless."

Akhmedov's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, urged Geroff to show leniency and impose a sentence that would leave Akhmedov "some life to live."

At the trial, witnesses testified that Akhmedov's silver 2012 Audi S4 was racing on the Boulevard with a souped-up white 1994 Honda Civic driven by Ahmen Holloman. Their race went on for three or four traffic lights before the crash.

Akhmedov lost control of his car, and a police expert said he plowed into Banks and her children at 79 m.p.h. as they crossed the Boulevard between Feltonville and Olney.

Holloman, 32, whose car did not strike the victims, pleaded guilty to four counts of vehicular homicide for a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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