Hundreds mourn Northville family killed in I-75 crash
Hundreds of mourners packed the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn Monday night to pay their respects to a Northville family killed in a car crash while traveling home from vacation over the weekend.
So many guests descended on the visitation for Issam and Rima Abbas and their three children that police were called in to keep order along Ford Road.
Those in attendance praised the family's closeness and impact on the community.
“This shows who they are,” family friend J. Mostafa said, gesturing to the long line of cars.
The Abbases had planned a Christmas break vacation in Florida, but a funeral for Rima's grandmother forced them to delay the trip.
That pushed back their return to Michigan, putting them on northbound Interstate 75 in Kentucky at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, when a wrong-way driver slammed into the family's SUV, killing all five instantly.
The crash brought fresh grief and shock to Rima's sister, Rana Abbas Taylor, and other relatives still mourning her grandmother's passing.
“We just lost her, too," Taylor said Monday. "It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
The crash killed Issam Abbas, 42; Rima Abbas, 38; and Ali, 14; Isabelle, 13; and Giselle, 7.
Taylor remembers her sister as a leader and caregiver, and the "rock" of her family.
"We were very close. She's my only sibling. We're 11 months apart. We sound alike, look alike ... people thought we were twins," Taylor said through tears. "She only lived three blocks from me. Her kids were my only kids. We spent the holidays together, and I don't have any kids. They were like my own."
Taylor is communications director for ACCESS, an Arab-American nonprofit based in Dearborn.
Given the crowds, family friend Johnny Beydoun of Dearborn Heights had to be picked up down the street after he paid his respects Monday.
"It's a tragedy for everyone," he said. "It really touched people who didn't even know them. It hurts."
'A loss for the entire Arab American community'
In a statement, CEO Hassan Jaber called the family's death "a loss not only for the immediate family, but also for ACCESS and the entire Arab American community."
“Our hearts are broken at this horrific news. ... The Abbas family lived with extraordinary purpose and devoted their talents and abilities to improve the lives of everyone they touched," Jaber said. "There are no words to fully express what they mean to ACCESS and our community. They will forever remain in our memory.”
Also killed was the driver, Joey Lee Bailey, 41, of Georgetown, Kentucky, of the northbound pickup that struck the family's vehicle. Authorities suspect he was drunk.
"Our investigation is continuing," said Lexington Police Department spokeswoman Brenna Angel. "We are continuing to try to track where (Bailey) was before the accident. Evidence recovered indicates alcohol may have been involved."
The coroner's office in Fayette County, Kentucky, said toxicology tests were planned.
Bailey's father, reached by phone Monday, said his son worked for Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky, was unmarried and had no children.
Issam Abbas' first cousin Habib Abbas said Monday he is still struggling to come to grips with his family's loss.
"(Bailey) wiped out a whole family," Abbas, said, his voice breaking. "You never know when your loved ones are going to be taken away."
Habib Abbas said the loss of his cousin, his wife and their children is "not just a loss for the family but also a loss for the entire country."
The tragedy has sent shock waves through Wayne County. Rima Abbas, a doctor, and Issam Abbas, a lawyer and real estate agent, were well-known and respected for their community involvement. The funeral was set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Dearborn's Islamic Center of America, which was founded by Rima Abbas' grandfather.
A candlelight vigil is planned Friday at Ford Park in Northville.
Making sense of a tragedy
All three Abbas children attended Northville Public Schools, where Ali was in the eighth grade, Isabella in seventh grade and Giselle in second. In a letter to parents and staff, Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher said social workers and counselors were being made available to students and staff.
"We are saddened by this loss and will make every effort to support your child as needed," Gallagher wrote. "We will be working together with students, teachers, and parents to discuss ways to recognize and honor the lives of Ali, Isabella and Giselle and their parents over the coming days."
The city of Northville also responded to the tragedy, posting a statement on Twitter that said, in part: "Our condolences go out to family, friends and others who know the Abbas family."
Quiona Lane, a patient of Rima Abbas' for 11 years, recalled when Abbas informed her she was pregnant with twins and the advice she gave as they were pregnant at the same time.
"When she told me, I fell off of her table," said the 36-year-old Romulus resident. "She came and laid right next to me on the floor and rubbed my back. She consoled me. She told me that I didn’t have to stop my dreams, I could deliver my (babies) and continue with school because she did. She said she had her son while in medical school and I can do the same."
Neighbors of the Northville family were still trying to make sense of the deaths Monday.
A small memorial of flowers and stuffed animals were left at the front of the garage attached to the Abbases’ home.
Neighbor Richard Svenson said their passing was “just tragic.”
“I cried like a baby when I heard on the news what happened to them,” he said from the front door of his home across the street and a couple of houses down from the Abbas residence. “I don’t know what else I can say.”
Svenson said the family had lived in the neighborhood for a couple of years and was known for being friendly. At Christmas, the Abbases would go around to their neighbors’ houses and give them a bottle of wine and some sweets, Svenson said.
David Reich, who lives a couple of doors down from the Abbases, said they will be greatly missed.
“They were really just a beautiful family,” he said.
Reich said he’d often see the children in their yard when he walked his dog.
“The kids were always playing outside,” he said. “Every time I’d walk by with my dog, they were always friendly with him. They always said hello to the dog.”
He said he recalls the family visiting neighbors at Christmas, singing carols and giving them gifts of wine and cookies. He said he even joined them once.
Like Svenson, he said it was hard to believe the family is gone. “I think the kids, especially, will be missed,” he said.
A doctor and a real estate agent
Rima Abbas was a family medicine doctor at the Beaumont Medical Center in Garden City.
She graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2006, and served her residency in family medicine at Oakwood Hospital in Wayne in 2009.
"It seemed everyone I knew, she was their physician and I didn't realize how many people she took care of," Taylor said. "She just got a promotion at Beaumont five months ago as a director, and we were so proud of her."
While Rima was tending to her new administrative position as director of 130 physicians, her sister said, she continued caring for her patients.
"She got the promotion and never wanted to stop patient practice and still juggled all of them," Taylor said. "That's what she was meant to do in her life and she juggled all her children's activities. Her and her husband always made it to all of their extracurricular and did everything they can."
Both Rima Abbas and her husband grew up in east Dearborn, friends said.
Sam Baydoun, a Wayne County commissioner and real estate broker who had worked with Issam, described Issam as friendly, a great family man and active in the community.
He worked three years in the Northville office of Curran & Oberski real estate, said Baydoun.
"It's such a tragedy," said Baydoun.
As Taylor prepared for the visitation, she struggled with the thought of entering the family's home to collect family photos and feed their cats.
"I'm not even in the right state of mind to see their cats. I was feeding them while they were away and now I don't know what to do with them," she said. "I have to find a good home for them, and it's hard to even go to their house after this."
Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.