A 9-year-old boy struggled to survive on life support Sunday, as his family listened to doctors' updates and decided what to do.
The boy's uncle, Freddie Smith, said his first reaction was to inflict as much pain on the intoxicated driver as the driver had caused his family with Friday's crash on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and Mayson Turner Road in Atlanta.
"I wanted him to suffer," Smith said, breaking the word into its two, hard syllables. "SUF-FER."
The driver, Ryan Lisabeth, crossed the center line, struck another vehicle, lost control of his car and hit 9-year-old Isiah Ward, severing his spine and breaking his neck.
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But by Sunday, Smith said he didn't want to focus on the negative. "We can't focus on him; we want to focus on the positive," Smith said.
He had already started referring to his 9-year-old nephew in the past tense, though the boy clung to life.
"That baby, he was one of a kind," Smith said, comparing the preteen's maturity to that of a teenager growing into adulthood. "If you were upset, his smile alone would brighten your day. Isiah will always hold a special place in my heart."
A nurse called the family back to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Sunday evening, after three out of four tests showed no brain activity, Smith said.
"They did a couple of tests and it's not good," Smith said.
Isiah and his 11-year-old brother, Roland Ward, were walking on the sidewalk with their friend, 12-year-old Timothy Hood at about 7 p.m. Friday.
Roland Ward suffered a broken leg that might end up requiring surgery, but both he and Hood are expected to survive their injuries.The family hadn't yet told Roland Ward, whose memory of the crash was fuzzy, how seriously his brother was hurt, Smith said.
The 28-year-old driver tried to speed off after the accident at 6:59 p.m., but Lisabeth hit another car before finally stopping, police spokesman Donald T. Hannah said.
Officers used a baton to break Lisabeth's driver side window after the accident because he wouldn't open the door, a witness told Channel 2 Action News.
"He didn't know what was going on but he was impaired, on something," Stephanie Nero, a neighbor near the crash site, said.
Lisabeth was treated on scene, where he broke down crying in front of television cameras. Once he was discharged from Grady, police booked Lisabeth into the Fulton County jail on charges of serious injury by vehicle (three counts), reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and possession of a controlled substance. He had previous arrests for heroin possession in 2011 and 2013, records show.
As the family gathered Sunday night at the hospital to hear about the boy's condition, Smith said for the first time in many years he was ready to trust the judicial system and he already forgives the driver who will likely face vehicular homicide charges.
"I pray to God he gets the strength to heal," Smith said about Lisabeth.
As much as Smith said he questions Lisabeth's decisions to not only use drugs but also drive toward where children were playing, he believes more in the strength of community. Leaders such as Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, and others have called and sent prayers to the family, Smith said.
Smith said at first he wanted to inflict the same amount of pain on the intoxicated driver as his nephews experienced, but he quickly realized how the tragedy brought his community together.
"You can't live for the moment; you have to be conscious of the decisions you make," Smith said. "Isiah hadn't even started living yet. He had aspirations, he wanted to do stuff and he was robbed of that opportunity."