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Teen recounts hit-run that killed her sister, 3 nephews

Laporcha Jones recalls looking and not seeing any cars that night two years ago, before crossing Roosevelt Boulevard with sister Samara Banks and Banks' four sons.

Laporcha Jones recalls looking and not seeing any cars that night two years ago, before crossing Roosevelt Boulevard with sister Samara Banks and Banks' four sons.

Jones, then 14, was in the lead with 5-year-old nephew Saa'yon Griffin; her sister was behind with a double stroller and the three younger boys. Jones recalled that the sound of the crash came from behind as she and her nephew stepped onto the first grass median separating the Boulevard's southbound outer lanes from the inner lanes.

"I heard a boom and turned around, and saw the kids on the ground," Jones testified Thursday.

"Did you see your sister?" asked Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb.

"No," Jones replied.

Jones did not see her 27-year-old sister because she had been launched 210 feet down the Boulevard by a 2012 silver Audi S4 that came over a crest in the road and hit Banks and the three children.

Jones was one of several prosecution witnesses to relive the trauma of the 10:30 p.m., July 2013 crash on the Boulevard at Second Street in a nonjury trial of the Audi's driver, 24-year-old Khusen Akhmedov.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Geroff is presiding over Akhmedov's trial on four counts of third-degree murder and related charges in what authorities say was a drag race with Ahmen Holloman, 32, driver of a souped-up white 1994 Honda Civic. Akhmedov lost control and plowed into Banks and her family at 79 m.p.h. as they crossed the 12-lane Boulevard.

Clear from Thursday's witnesses is that the trauma of the carnage they saw that night has not diminished.

Shirley Martin left the courtroom sobbing after she described coming across Banks' mangled body on the highway.

Martin testified that she got off the R bus at Third Street and the Boulevard after attending a friend's funeral. She said she heard two booms in rapid succession.

"I thought it was a bag of trash, but it was Samara," Martin said as she wept.

The cumulative impact of the witnesses' testimony became too much even for Lipscomb. At a morning recess, the veteran prosecutor walked into the hall, eyes teary and voice cracking, and told a police officer that other cases "never affected me this way."

In addition to Banks, the crash killed Saa'mir Williams, 7 months; Saa'sean Williams, 23 months; and Saa'deem Griffin, 4. Banks' oldest son, Saa'yon Griffin, survived.

On Monday, Holloman pleaded guilty to four counts of vehicular homicide for a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

Akhmedov elected a nonjury trial after prosecutors agreed not to seek a mandatory life term if he is found guilty on more than one third-degree murder count.

Defense attorney Michael Diamondstein has said that his client was driving too fast, and that his car killed Banks and the children. Diamondstein, however, insists Akhmedov did not have the malice to support a third-degree murder verdict.

Other witnesses Thursday testified about how the Audi and Honda raced each other, weaving in and out of traffic, for at least four traffic lights before the crash.

Driver Timothy Hutson said the two cars passed him at 90 to 100 m.p.h., "so fast that my car shook."

Iesha Aikens and her friend Eugene Townes, in another southbound car, also saw the two racing cars, and said they remarked to each other that "they're going to cause an accident."

Moments later, Townes testified, he was confronted by debris and bodies in the road ahead: "I was so devastated. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."