Christine Finney passed out 50 red balloons to celebrate her son Nicholas Bobo’s 35th birthday on Sunday.

At the intersection of Lindsay and Virginia avenues in East Akron, family and friends held tightly to thin red ribbons on a windy, clear afternoon. “Happy Birthday, Nick,” "Happy Birthday, Dad," they said, letting go where Bobo died six months ago.

“Everybody wants to be with Nick on his birthday,” said Finney, surrounded by Bobo’s six children. The kids remember how their father always took them trick-or-treating and how the start of summer will always be more dear to some of them than even Christmas … “because June’s my dad’s birthday,” said “Little” Nick Bobo Jr., 7.

Bobo, 34, was driving with his girlfriend Arielle Davis, 28, when authorities say a speeding 2018 Dodge Charger blew threw a stop sign and collided with couple’s 2003 Chevy Impala around 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday. Ejected upon impact, Bobo died at the scene and Davis nine hours later at Summa Akron City Hospital.

Bobo’s birthday always brought the family together. The food helped, too, Finney said. This year, they eulogized in the street.

“Nick didn’t have a lot of money, but he had a lot of time,” said Antoine Anderson Sr., a “godbrother” to Bobo. “Whether it was going to the sand pile or Chuck E. Cheese, Nick would always do for his children.”

Anderson called him a model for every black man with children in Akron.

“Not having a father of his own, I think it made him more active in his kids’ lives,” said Mike King, Bobo’s older brother. “Anybody that ever came across him, he just showed so much love. We really took a big loss.”

Standing on the sidewalk, Karen Bickerstaff was asked how she and her family are coping with the loss of Davis, her daughter. “The best we can,” Bickerstaff said, turning to sob on someone else's shoulder.

A memorial cookout on Davis’ birthday, July 20, will be held at 461 Trunko Road in Fairlawn. Attendees are asked to bring a pink, white or silver balloon to release.

 

Suspect in custody

 

Police and prosecutors think they’ve got the person who was driving the 2018 Dodge Challenger that fateful night. Originally, investigators suspected Aiysha M. Williams, who was found in the driver’s seat of the vehicle and, according to police, smelling like alcohol. Two weeks later, they put a warrant out for Sirvonte D. Rice, who now faces two counts of vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of an accident.

Lt. Antonio Matos said a State Highway Patrol Trooper passed the speeding Dodge Challenger on Inman Street. By the time the trooper spun around to initiate a stop, the Challenger had turned down Lindsay Avenue, a 25 mph street.

The trooper never got close enough to flip on the lights and sirens, turning onto Lindsay Avenue to witness the aftermath of the deadly car crash a quarter-mile away at Virginia Avenue.

Attorney Adam VanHo, who is representing Rice, said his client is nowhere in the 10 seconds of dashcam video the trooper recorded on approach to the accident. He said his client “has always” maintained that he was not in the car at the time of the accident, though Rice had been with Williams, his ex-girlfriend, earlier that night. The Challenger, VanHo said, was a rental listed to a mutual friend.

At the time of the accident, Rice had a pending charge of tampering with a car title in relation to Williams, VanHo said. That lesser charge has been put on hold until after the vehicular homicide case is over.

Within 10 days of turning himself in in the hit-skip and aggravated vehicular homicide, Rice was picked up for theft in the company of Williams at a Springfield Walmart. VanHo said Williams pleaded guilty to the theft, which he said amounted to not scanning items at a self-checkout counter. Rice pleaded guilty to giving a false identity to police, thinking he had a warrant out for either of his outstanding cases, VanHo said.

A trial in the double vehicular homicide is set for Oct. 21 before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Susan Baker Ross.

VanHo said DNA on the Challenger’s deployed airbag matches that of Rice and Williams, but may not be a strong enough match to convince a jury. VanHo also plans to question evidence collection at the "chaotic" and "not contained" crime scene. DNA on an airbag would belong to someone there after the accident, unless the DNA was smeared as first responders reached in to pull Williams out.

Lt. Matos said the trooper did not see Rice when approaching the wreck. His attention was on calling for backup, dealing with a gathering of bystanders and triaging Bobo, Davis and Williams. VanHo said the trooper’s police report puts Williams “pinned in the front driver’s seat.”

The families of Bobo and Davis, and the broader community, speculated that Rice was in the car, even before he was charged. Now, upset that Rice is out driving the streets, they're looking for closure.

"But it won't bring my son back," said Finney.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.