Sixteen-year-old Naseer Alwakeel ran cross-country and played lacrosse. He won a place at a major summer technology program. He was looking forward to getting his driver’s license.
But Friday night the Gwinnett County teen was among three killed in a car accident, a group of friends driving home from a Meadowcreek High School football game.
“He was very smart, very kind, very considerate. Helpful,” said his father, Mujaaher Alwakeel. “He was everything you could ask for in a 16-year-old.”
Naseer and another passenger, Nelson Umanzor, 18, were killed in the crash along with their driver, Brandon Martinez, 18. One other passenger, Mesiah Allen, 17, was reported to be in in critical condition at Gwinnett Medical Center. All were students at Meadowcreek, according to school system officials.
According to preliminary reports gathered by Gwinnett County Police, the teens’ Toyota 4Runner was driving in the fast lane of Steve Reynolds Boulevard about 10:15 Friday night when they came up behind a slower vehicle. Martinez swerved right to avoid it, but he lost control, struck a guardrail and went airborne. The SUV then crashed into a tree.
More than 2,000 teens die yearly in U.S. crashes, about two-thirds of them males. In Friday’s crash, speed is being investigated as a possible factor.
In his son, Mujaaher Alwakeel spoke of an all-American boy who found joy going to football games with friends, helped out at home and was a “huge” help to his mom with his younger brothers and sister.
Naseer Alwakeel moved to Georgia with his family as a toddler from the Buffalo, New York-area, and football was a regular part of the life he was creating here. “Just the camaraderie,” said his father. “Being there with his school, the school spirit.”
Mujaaher had warned Naseer about drugs and alcohol and says he never had a hint of trouble. “He said he was an athlete, he didn’t want to mess up his body.”
Alwakeel spoke to the AJC less than 24 hours following the crash, after a grueling night of confusion and grief. First the visit by Naseer’s friends, telling his wife about an accident their son may have been in, and probably needing to go to Gwinnett Medical Center. Then no, not to the hospital, but to the scene of the crash.
But it was closed off. They couldn’t see the site or the investigation, and they just waited.
Then the wait ended. “They came and let us know Naseer was one of the — .” Alwakeel didn’t finish the sentence.
Saturday morning he went back to the site of the crash. There was a reporter there from Channel 2 Action News, and Mujaaher spoke to him. He gave him a photo of Naseer.
Back at home, the condolences were starting to come. Neighbors with a son at the school dropped by. Family from Buffalo and Virginia are expected.
In the Muslim tradition, the burial must take place within three days. Naseer’s body will be picked up, washed and shrouded, and the family believes it will plan for a Monday burial.
Naseer leaves behind his mother and father, two sisters, 24 and 8, and two brothers, 12 and 10.
Mujaaher Alwakeel is struggling with himself now.
He wishes the last time he saw Naseer he wasn’t irritated. “I was mad because I had to take him to school,” the father said. “Sometimes he gets rides with friends. That was my last time interacting with him.”
And worst, he’s wondering if he could have prevented the accident.
His wife had wanted him to do more to investigate kids when Naseer was driving with them. He had just met Martinez once, briefly. He gave him instructions about being safe.
“We try. As parents we try and do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may.” He has a message for other parents now. “To my wife’s point about teenage drivers – they’re not the safest drivers. You really need to sit down and interview if you will, kids that are driving your kids around.
“Roads are a dangerous place.”
DEALING WITH TEEN DRIVING
Teen drivers, from 16 to 19 years old, are more likely to crash than drivers of any other age group, but they get better the more experience they have. Here are some facts and suggestions from studies.
- Male teen drivers and passengers were twice as likely to die in crashes as female teen drivers and passengers.
- Teens driving unsupervised with other teens were more likely to crash. The more teens in the car, the higher the risk of a crash.
- Research found teen drivers were more likely to follow closer than normal behind the car ahead if they had a male passenger, but if they had a female passenger, they were more likely than normal to leave more space between them and the car ahead.
- It found both girls and boys drove faster than general traffic, but boys drove even faster in the presence of a male passenger.
Let young drivers know the leading causes of teen crashes:
- Driver inexperience
- Driving with teen passengers
- Nighttime driving
- Not using seat belts
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Reckless driving
- Impaired driving
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Bruce Simons-Mortion, National Institutes of Health, et al.