Ainsworth Mallett and his family were returning home to Georgia from a Christmas visit with his mother in Connecticut when their car was rammed from behind by a tractor-trailer Thursday morning on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Mallett, 51; his wife, Jacqueline, 49; and their 12-year-old son, Drew, died in the wreckage, as did the family's dog. The couple's 18-year-old daughter, Nicole, survived with minor injuries.
As the investigation into the crash in Mount Laurel continues, those who knew the family were trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
"This is heartrending," said Jacqueline Hawthorne-Robinson, a friend and business associate.
Mallet operated a Golden Krust Bakery & Grill franchise in Lithonia, Ga., said Hawthorne-Robinson, whose family owns the company, which specializes in Caribbean foods.
The Lithonia store has been closed until further notice, Hawthorne-Robinson said.
Mallett and his wife came from Jamaica.
"He was a really good guy," Hawthorne-Robinson said.
She said Mallett had only one arm because of a birth defect but used a prosthesis.
"He had one arm, but he could move mountains," said Hawthorne-Robinson, who said she saw Mallett regularly.
Judy Smith, Jacqueline Mallett's sister, who also lives in Georgia, said relatives in Georgia and Connecticut were trying to coordinate arrangements.
She said the family had spent Christmas with Ainsworth's mother, Prudencia, in Hartford and was returning to its home in Stone Mountain.
Her niece went to stay with family in Connecticut after she was released from a hospital Thursday, Smith said.
"She was larger than life," Smith said of her sister. "She had a kind heart. She would give you the shirt off her back."
Jacqueline Mallett worked as a secretary at Stephenson Middle School in Stone Mountain, according to the staff directory of the DeKalb County School District.
Smith said her nephew was "coming into his own" and had recently joined his school band. "He was a great kid," she said.
State police said the Malletts were southbound when their Toyota Camry was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer Thursday morning at milepost 39.9, between Exits 4 and 5.
Traffic slowed suddenly, for reasons still under investigation, when the crash occurred, state police said.
Sgt. Adam Grossman, a state police spokesman, said no charges had been filed.