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Relatives share memories, heartbreak at vigil for family killed in crash

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Northville — When Rima and Rana Abbas were teenagers they would sit in their shared bedroom and talk endlessly about their future. 

The sisters, only 11 months apart, were practically twins. They looked alike, sounded alike and were tied at the hip. When they got married and left their parents' home in east Dearborn, they ended up in Northville, four blocks apart.

Rana could share stories for hours about her sister but struggled Friday to find the words as she addressed a crowd of 500 that gathered to honor the memory of Rima, her husband and three children.

Community members brave the cold Friday evening at Ford Field Park in Northville to pay their respects at a candlelight vigil in memory of the Abbas Family -- Issam, Rima and their three children Ali, 14, Isabelle, 13 and Giselle, 7,--  who all were tragically killed in a wrong-way driver traffic accident in Kentucky last Sunday while returning from a Family vacation. Photos taken on January 11, 2019.

The Abbas family was traveling home from a vacation in Florida when they were struck head-on at 2:30 a.m. Sunday on Interstate 75 in Kentucky

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

Also killed was Joey Lee Bailey, who drove a pickup the wrong way on the interstate before he hit the Abbas family's sport-utility vehicle. Authorities suspect he was drunk but are awaiting the results of toxicology tests.

"Rima was my only sibling and AJ, Izzy and Giselle, my only nieces and nephew," Rana Abbas Taylor said through the tears. "I can't even begin to share with you how painful this has been on our entire family, but what I can tell you is they wanted nothing more than to be able to talk about how wonderful this community was."  

Taylor read a poem "When Great Trees Fall" by Maya Angelou at Ford Field Park during the candlelight ceremony.

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. 

Bill Jones of Hillside Middle School said students have been sharing memories of Ali, who loved Michigan State, and Isabelle, who adored cats.

Haley Stevens, who represents Northville in the 11th Congressional District, stood alongside U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, at the vigil. Dingell introduced the Abbas Act Friday, a bill to require that new cars be equipped with ignition interlock devices to prevent intoxicated driving. 

Moe Abbas shed tears recalling a few stories of his brother, Issam, and Rima and the children, who were "his pillars." 

"My family is overwhelmed to say the least with everything that's happened and your support is how we're making it through. If you could call this making it through," he said. "Rima was his main pillar. I guess in a way this is how it had to happen because I can't imagine Issam without Rima or Rima without Issam. Any of them without each other and I know they're in heaven together."

Fayez Faraj, Issam's best friend, said their families couldn't have been closer.

"I visited their home frequently and there's a consistent visual I was greeted with at the door. Issam sitting on the couch with his feet resting on the ottoman. Izzy cuddled into his left arm, Giselle cuddled into his right arm, with her legs resting across her fathers. AJ laying on the couch, playing on his phone and Rima sitting on a chair sipping on a tea or coffee," Faraj said. "It's an image I hold dear to my heart and how I'll always remember them. Filled with love."

The vigil closed out with an Islamic prayer with text from the Quran.

Thousands gathered Monday and Tuesday to pay respects at the funeral at Dearborn's Islamic Center of America, which was founded by Rima Abbas' grandfather. The family was laid to rest beside one another at the Islamic Memorial Gardens on Ann Arbor Trail in Westland. 

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

The Esbouh (commemoration services) for the Abbas Family will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_