Authorities have charged a Zebulon man with a fourth count of murder after a drag-racing crash killed four people and injured three others in northern Johnston County on Sunday.
Jimmy Pearce II, 37, was driving one of two cars racing on Simon Road near the Johnston-Nash line at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, according to the State Highway Patrol. Pearce lost control of his car, which veered off the pavement and struck a group of people watching the race, the Highway Patrol reported.
Pearce’s car crashed into a tree after hitting the spectators. He was initially charged with three counts of second-degree murder for the three people who died at the scene: Undra Montrell Taybron, 40, of Wilson; Carlton Ray Brooks, 42, of Zebulon; and Garland Earp, 39. of Middlesex.
Garland Earp’s nephew, Arrington Earp, 23, of Selma, was also hit. He died at the hospital, leading to a fourth count of second-degree murder, said Sgt. V.E. Burton of the State Highway Patrol.
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Three others were seriously injured in the crash: Ida Mae Rapa, 42, of Selma; Roncellis Marshall, 44, of Battleboro; and Larry Deans, 43, of Bailey.
Rapa in serious condition at WakeMed in Raleigh. Pearce could be charged with a fifth count of second-degree murder if she dies, Burton said.
Pearce made his first appearance in court on Monday. His appointed attorney, Mike Reece of Smithfield, could not be reached for comment.
State troopers are still looking for the other driver involved in the drag race. As of Thursday afternoon, the Highway Patrol had released no information about the driver or the car.
The State Bureau of Investigation is helping with the investigation. SBI spokeswoman Teresa West said agents are following up on leads with the Highway Patrol.
The Highway Patrol said Pearce was driving in the westbound lane on Simon Road, racing the other car, which was in the eastbound lane. After the crash, the other driver drove away, as did some of the spectators who weren’t hurt, said Highway Patrol Sgt. J.C. Manning.
Some stayed behind and tried to help the people who were hit. Also, residents who live near the crash came outside to see what had happened.
In a recording of a 911 call, a woman who said she was a nurse told a dispatcher that at least three people were dead. She said another had a compound fracture.
“I haven’t felt a pulse on three,” said the caller, whose name was not released.
She then started talking to a male patient, telling him to be still. “You can’t get up,” she said. “You have a compound fracture, baby. Don’t get up.”
Officials have asked anyone with information about the crash to call the State Highway Patrol’s communication center at 919-733-3861 or its Johnston County office at 919-934-2186.
A chaotic scene
Raymond Martinez, 15, who lives on Buckhorn Drive, said he was in bed about 10:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard car engines roaring. He looked out his window and saw the collision.
“I heard the brake of the car and the thump between the people and the bumper of the car,” Martinez said. “I was shocked.”
Martinez said he grabbed his shoes and went outside with his father. About 15 people were at the intersection.
“I saw the bodies lying on the ground, people asking for help and to call the ambulance,” Martinez said.
First responders found a chaotic scene, with those struck by the car spread out and being tended to by others. Some of the injured were 20 to 30 feet from where the collision took place and were hard to find in the dark.
“There were some bodies wrapped up and others they were working on,” said Terry Faison, who drove to the scene of the crash after hearing the ambulances from his nearby home. “They were all over.”
Three people died at the scene, said Josh Holloman, the EMS division chief for Johnston County Emergency Services. Paramedics rushed the other four to WakeMed in Raleigh, where another victim died.
The first EMS crew arrived about eight minutes after receiving the 911 call, Holloman said.
Not the first race
While many were shocked by the crash, residents weren’t surprised the cars were racing. Neighbors said crowds gather about three to four times a month, typically on Sundays, to watch cars zoom past.
Paola Reyes, 20, said she has been awakened by the roar of the cars at night. Her family lives close to Simon Road; to her knowledge, a lot of the racers don’t.
“It’s not a lot of people from around here,” Reyes said. “It’s people from outside the county who disturb the peace.”
“I’m worried about my little brother’s safety,” Reyes said. “He likes playing outside, and I’m worried it will end up hurting him.”
Martinez, the 15-year-old witness, said the races happen at night. Ramona Martinez, his mother, said onlookers park along Buckhorn Drive and walk to the intersection to watch.
“After that, they leave,” she said.
Manning, the Highway Patrol sergeant, said he’s never gotten a call or heard about illegal street racing in the Simon Road area. But he said troopers plan to increase patrols there.
Friends and family of the crash victims stopped at the scene throughout the day on Monday. Most wanted to see where the collision took place; others stopped to reminisce with friends about those they had lost.
Alex Strickland of Middlesex said he was good friends with Garland Earp and his nephew, Arrington. They bonded over a love of racing, he said.
“He was known for helping people out,” Strickland said. “Even if he was busy with his own thing, he would stop and take time and give you a hand.”
Strickland said he didn’t know the Earps were into street racing. He said he would have tried to talk them out of going.
“Some people around Middlesex had told me a place people were racing, but I didn’t know the exact name of the street,” he said. “With no guardrails, it’s really not a safe thing to do.”
Lena Mitchell of Middlesex said she knew most of the people who were hurt or killed.
“All of them were good people,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s just real sad.”
Staff writers John Hamlin and Ron Gallagher contributed.
Nash Dunn: 919-553-7234, ext. 104; @Nash_Dunn