Joseph Gathambyri, 25, was hit Wednesday just before 5 a.m. while heading to work at Burger King off South Marietta Parkway.
Less than 8 hours later, Marietta Police arrested 27-year-old Damon Thomas Lautch and charged him with hit and run, DUI and first-degree vehicular homicide.
Marietta Officer Michael Gardner said Gathambyri was riding his bike on South Marietta Parkway westbound near Aviation Road when he was struck and killed from behind by a driver who then fled the scene.
“We were able to use some of the debris that came off the vehicle and track down what type of vehicle it was,5” Gardner said.
They narrowed it down to a black, early-1990s model Toyota truck, and with the help of an anonymous tip, Lautch was arrested. He remains in the Cobb County Jail.
Burger King coworker Virginia Hammond said Gathambyri has worked at the Marietta fast-food restaurant for about four years.
“He did everything around here,” she said. “He was my right-hand man. … This is all just so shocking.”
She knew Wednesday morning that something was wrong when he wasn’t at work before her. They have worked the morning shift together for the last two years.
“He usually gets here around 5:10 a.m. and will wait at Dunkin’ Donuts until I get in,” Hammond said.
After dropping Hammond off at work, her boyfriend drove down to the scene of the accident and discovered Gathambyri had been killed.
“When he called and said it was Joe, I just broke down,” she said.
Marisa Williams, who also worked with Gathambyri, was heartbroken by his death and described the Kenyan native as a loving person with a big heart.
“All the people here were close to him,” she said with tear-filled eyes. “He always gave everybody hugs.”
Hammond said another thing that made Gathambyri so special was that he was deaf.
“He would point at you before talking to you, so you would know who he wanted to communicate with,” she said.
Gathambyri would read people’s lips and write down whatever he needed help with and texted on his phone to talk to family and friends.
“It was just amazing!” Hammond said.
His coworkers also said Gathambyri was an aspiring rap artist, who spent his spare time creating his own rap videos and writing his own music. He rapped through sign language and performed under the name “Deaf Joe.”
“He was into his music very hard,” Williams said. “He could hear the base of the music … and he took pictures with a lot of famous people in rap.”
Third bicycle fatality in Cobb this year
On March 31, Lawrence Joseph Young of Marietta was hit around 7:45 p.m. on Powder Springs Street at Natchez Trace, and he died at WellStar Kennestone Hospital from injuries.
The 55-year-old was riding his bike southbound on Powder Springs Street when he was struck by what witnesses described as a black Cadillac Escalade or similar type luxury SUV exiting the parking lot of NCG Cinemas.
The driver of the identified SUV was brought in for questioning a few days later but police haven’t made any arrests or filed charges.
In early February, a Woodstock man was killed after he reportedly lost control of his bike and pulled into oncoming traffic on Bells Ferry Road in north Cobb.
Timothy Austin, 42, was traveling southbound on the sidewalk of Bells Ferry near the Cobb and Cherokee County line just north of Wentworth Drive when he pulled into a local business, lost control of the bicycle and pulled into the northbound lanes.
He was then struck by a silver 2006 Nissan Xterra driven by Amanda Neill, 29, of Lilburn, against whom police didn’t file charges.
Drivers and bikers should be aware
Officer Gardner said both drivers and bicycle riders should always be aware of each other when on the road, but in Gathambyri’s incident, he was following the law.
“He was completely within the law, riding in the right direction and had the proper equipment on his bike,” he said. “Unfortunately, nothing else could have been done.”
Joe Seconder, who founded Bike Cobb and sits on the Board of Directors for Georgia Bikes, said he’s hearing more and more about incidents like this.
“These accidents did not involve road racers,” he said. “They were using (the road) for transportation, and bicycling should be a viable option, so why not make it safer?”
Seconder said he hopes that one day the state will undo the last 40 years of development and build roads and bridges that accommodate more bicyclists and pedestrians.
“At the end of the day, I want to have it safe for the casual users, from an 8-year-old to an 80-year-old, to go to school, the library, coffee and pool,” he said.
Seconder said funding is available for such road redesign and restriping to allow for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly improvements.
“It’s a matter of prioritization, so if people can understand that we can make complete streets, we can make them safer by simply redesigning them,” he said.
He also reminds drivers that Georgia law, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2011, requires a 3-foot passing radius when driving around bicycle riders.
“We need to add signage throughout the state and have advertising and enforcement of this law,” he said.