Residents of a small Michigan town are mourning the deaths of a beloved doctor and her family who were killed when a suspected drunken driver going the wrong way on a Kentucky freeway slammed head-on into their vehicle as they were returning home from a Florida vacation.
Dr. Rima Abbas, her husband, Issam Abbas, and their three children — Ali, 14, Isabella, 13, and Giselle, 7 — all perished in the fiery crash early Sunday near Lexington.
The family was from Northville, Michigan, a town of fewer than 6,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Detroit. Many in the town knew the Abbas family and were left grief-stricken by the fatal crash that occurred more than 340 miles away.
“We do not know how to feel. We do not know how to express it. It is a shock. It took us by surprise,” Hassan Abbas, the great uncle of 42-year-old Issam Abbas, told ABC affiliate station WXYZ-TV in Detroit.
“See, this tragedy is not only for us now, for the family, but it is for the whole community and for humanity, too, because anybody [who] hears about this tragedy is going to feel it,” he said.
The Abbas family had spent the Christmas break in Florida and were driving back to Michigan when a pickup truck driven by Joey Lee Bailey, 41, crashed into their SUV about 2:30 a.m. Sunday while driving the wrong way on Interstate 75 near Lexington, according to the Lexington Police and the Fayette County Coroner’s Office.
Police investigators suspect Bailey of Georgetown, Kentucky, who was also killed in the crash, was driving under the influence. Toxicology testing is pending in the case, the coroner’s office said.
Kenneth DeGraaf of Kentucky said that, like the Abbas family, he was northbound on Interstate 75 when he noticed Bailey’s southbound truck headed straight for him just before the crash.
“We just see this truck, you know, fly by us,” DeGraaf told ABC affiliate station WTVQ-TV in Lexington, adding that he immediately called the police. “It was very scary for us and we’re lucky that it wasn’t us, but at the same time we just pray for all those involved.”
Loved ones and friends were expected to gather Monday night at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, for a visitation service and vigil for the family. A funeral is scheduled at the center for Tuesday.
Issam Abbas was an attorney and real estate agent in Northville. His wife specialized in family medicine for Beaumont Medical Center in Garden City, Michigan, according to the medical center’s website.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of Dr. Rima Abbas, her beloved husband and children,” Dr. David Wood, Beaumont Health chief medical officer, said in a statement. “She was a caring mother and a dedicated family practice physician. Our hearts go out to all of her family, friends and patients during this difficult time.”
Imad Hamad, director of the American Human Rights Council in Dearborn, wrote on Twitter: “No words can express the grief, pain and sorrow this tragedy has caused. We send our heartfelt condolences to the Abbas family.”
Ali Abbas and his sister, Isabella, both attended Hillside Middle School in Northville, where Ali was an eighth grader and Isabella was a seventh grader. Their little sister, Giselle, was a second-grader at Amerman Elementary School in Northville.
“Teachers and support staff members across the District have been informed of this loss, and will be prepared to support our students and families, and one another,” the Northville Public School District said in a statement.
Meanwhile, colleagues and patients of Dr. Abbas, 38, a 2006 graduate of Wayne State University medical school in Detroit, flooded her Facebook page with notes of condolences.
“I’m so full of sorrow, so hurt,” wrote one of her patients, Quiona Lane, on Facebook. “Dr. Abbas was the nicest woman. She cared about her patients. She cared about her family. She would sit and chat with me about various things over the course of 11 years. She and I [were] pregnant at the same time. She always had a smile on her face. I cannot believe this. I’m heartbroken. Her entire family is gone. It’s surreal.”
Fayez Faraj, a close friend of the Abbas family, told the Detroit Free Press newspaper that she admired Rima and Issam Abbas, saying they “raised three beautiful children who shared their parents’ love of life.”
“There is no way the family and our community can fathom this loss,” Faraj said. “A beautiful family was senselessly taken away from us. The Abbas family was kind, loving, outgoing and generous.”