A Zebulon man is charged with murder and another suspect is at large after an illegal street-racing crash killed four people and injured three others in Johnston County on Sunday night.
The N.C. State Highway Patrol said two cars were racing on Simon Road near the Johnston-Nash county line when one driver lost control, veered off the pavement and struck onlookers.
The driver, Jimmy Pearce II, 37, of Zebulon, hit a tree after colliding with the people watching the race, according to the Highway Patrol. He was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injuries.
It’s not clear why Pearce has not been charged with a fourth count of murder.
Authorities are still looking for the driver of the other car.
Neighbors who live near the crash site say this wasn’t the first time drivers have used the road to race. Cars whiz by at night a few times a month, often drawing a crowd.
Those who died Sunday had come to watch the race: They are Undra Montrell Taybron, 40, of Wilson; Carlton Ray Brooks, 42; and Garland Earp, 39, and his nephew Arrington Earp, 23. Hometowns for Brooks and the Earps were unavailable Monday.
Ida Mae Rapa, 42, of Selma was being treated for life-threatening injuries Monday. Roncellis Marshall, 44, of Battleboro and Larry Deans, 43, of Bailey also were seriously injured.
Pearce was driving in the westbound lane on Simon Road, racing another other car in the eastbound lane.
Pearce was going at least 100 mph when his 1989 Ford Mustang veered off the right side of the road at Buckhorn Drive, striking the group of onlookers, said Sgt. J.C. Manning of the Highway Patrol.
Skid marks still visible Monday morning showed where the car rocketed across the intersection and wrecked in a ditch next to several trees.
Pearce, who suffered minor injuries, is being held at the Johnston County jail on $1 million bail. He has a July 30 court date.
The driver of the other car drove off, Manning said. At this point, he said, authorities don’t have a physical description of the driver, and the car is described only as dark-colored.
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 arrived to a chaotic scene, where those struck by the car were spread out and being tended to by several others who were watching the race. Some of the injured were 20 to 30 feet from where the collision took place and difficult 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. Many 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 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 said he’s never gotten a call or heard about illegal street racing in the Simon Road area but said troopers plan to increase patrols there.
Friends and family of the crash victims stopped at the scene throughout the day 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