Mourners remember Northville family killed in crash: Their influence will live on

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Four of the five hearses pass in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn after services for the Abbas family on Tuesday.

Dearborn — Maysaa Basha said she struggled to try to turn a lifetime of memories into words Tuesday in the face of staggering loss. 

With five caskets in front of her, Basha, 37, joined hands with friends and faced hundreds of mourners gathered at the Islamic Center of America for the funeral for the Abbas family of Northville, in an attempt to give voice to her grief.

"We sat down together and tried to figure out how to best honor these lives that we lost," Basha, of Canton Township, told the crowd. "Rima's gracefulness, Issam's love and devotion, and their sweet angels A.J., Izzy and Giselle... they were comfortable around everybody and put everybody around them at comfort."

The family of five was returning home from Florida when their SUV was hit head-on by a suspected drunken driver Sunday at 2:30 a.m. on Interstate 75 in Lexington, Kentucky.  Before the crash, police received 911 calls about a white pickup truck heading the wrong way on northbound I-75.

The crash killed Issam Abbas, 42; Rima Abbas, 38; and Ali, 14; Isabelle, 13; and Giselle, 7.

Also killed was the driver of the pickup, Joey Lee Bailey, 41, of Georgetown, Kentucky.

Photos of the Abbas family played over the projection screens at the funeral service as religious leaders, including Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni and Ahmed Hammoud, read sermons from the Quran. The lyrics of Sister Sledge’s "We Are Family" were read by family members during the service and brought visitors to tears. 

Mourners leave the funeral service for the Abbas family on Tuesday.

The family had traveled to Florida after they postponed their vacation for Rima's grandmother's funeral on Christmas Eve, which caused them to come back Sunday rather than Saturday night, the family said

The family did not speak Tuesday, but Basha told family members in attendance that it was an honor to have known their precious daughter and son.

"For the most part, we would go months without talking or seeing each other but would quickly connect because we were bonded by the same values," said Basha, 37, told The Detroit News prior to the service. "Rima valued her family the most, her parents and her sister, Rana ... and, of course, Issam and the kids were the center of her world.

"We texted about the struggles of career, our worries for our parents, and juggling after-school activities for the kids," added Basha, of Dearborn. "We provided words of encouragement on those tough days and a place to vent and escape the daily struggles. Rima was the first to offer comfort with her beautiful smile and a twinkle in her eyes."

After the morning service, family members surrounded the caskets alongside five black picture frames and large bouquets of white flowers for final goodbyes. Caskets were draped with green velvet cloths written with gold Arabic text from the Quran as the family moved them to the prayer room.

Rima was a family medicine doctor at the Beaumont Medical Center in Garden City. Issam was a lawyer and real estate agent. Both grew up in east Dearborn and were well-known and respected for their community involvement.

The Abbas family.

Family friend and spokeswoman Rana Elmir said after the burial that Rima and Issam's love story "is one for the ages."

"He wooed her the old-fashioned way through love letters in high school and college. ... There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of letters," said Elmir, also the deputy director of the ACLU of Michigan.

"The way Rima cares for her patients says a lot about her as a doctor, but it says more about her as a person. She was caring, attentive, engaged and gentle. She chose family care because she wanted to make a difference and she has. We know it. The number of patients coming to the family and saying 'you don’t know me, but Rima was my doctor and I can’t tell you the impact she’s had on my life' is both heartening."

Elmir said the family is devastated by the loss of the family, especially the children who were the "nucleus" of their family. 

"A.J. loved sports and was a huge basketball, MSU and Tigers baseball fan. Izzy loved to bake and had just been getting into it and could have been a great chef one day. ... Gizelle loved to move, did gymnastics and was full of spirit," Elmir said. 

"We know this family’s legacy, memory and influence will live on."

Hundreds of cars joined the funeral procession Tuesday following five hearses lit up with purple lights and led by Wayne County Sheriff's deputies and Dearborn police. 

The family was laid to rest beside one another at the Islamic Memorial Gardens on Ann Arbor Trail in Westland. 

Issam Abbas' cousin, Habib Abbas, said Monday he is still struggling to come to grips with his family's loss.

“We’re all a close family. He’s like my best friend, and it’s like I lost my brother,” said Abbas, 44, his voice breaking. “You don’t expect a whole family to get wiped out. You think to yourself what’s the worst-case scenario, and that’s it.”

Neighbors, friends and colleagues of the Northville family were still trying to make sense of the deaths Tuesday, many of whom stayed in the parking lot. 

Dr. Andrea Szuper became a close friend and colleague of Rima during their family medicine residency in 2006 at Oakwood. 

"She had always a smile on her face and was always ready to help anyone. I had the pleasure to meet her husband Issam and see her kids grow," said Szuper, 41, from Canton Township.

"Everyone loved her. We had just spoke over the phone a month ago, and now I can’t believe I won’t be able to see or hear her voice anymore. I feel devastated and still can’t believe this tragedy has happened."

A candlelight vigil will be held in the family's memory at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field Park, 151 Griswold Street in Northville. The Esbouh (commemoration services) will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. 

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking donations be made to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_