January 18, 2017
9:01 am

Three BH Natives Die in Fiery Wreck

Three young Benton Harbor people died in a fiery crash on the southwest side of Atlanta, Georgia in the early morning hours of Sunday, January 8th including the sister of former NBA star Robert Whaley, according to authorities in Georgia. 

Police say that 36-year old Joi Whaley Barnes, a Benton Harbor man, and another young woman were reportedly killed when the car they were riding in just before 2am Sunday morning was traveling at a high rate of speed, hit an electrical utility pole, a tree and then burst into flames. Joi, from Benton Harbor, and Michael Nichols who was from Benton Harbor, but living in Atlanta were reportedly killed in the crash along with a friend, who has not been identified by authorities yet. 

Atlanta Police say the vehicle, possibly a BMW MX6 Sports model, passed one of their officers who was parked at a gasoline station on Campbellton Road on Atlanta's southwest side just moments before the crash. That officer said the vehicle "appeared to be traveling at excessive speeds," and moments later the call came in to report the fiery crash.

Atlanta Police say that an accident reconstruction team, fire rescue officials and the Fulton County Medical Examiner responded to the scene of the crash near Niskey Lake Road. Georgia Power crews also had to be called to the scene to restore power to roughly ten homes in the area that were plunged into darkness by the early morning crash. 

Police say that weather may also have contributed to the accident, but speed was definitely involved. At least one Atlanta TV station, WGCL-TV, is reporting that the vehicle may have exploded on contact since debris from the wreck was found nearly 200 feet from the crash scene. That station interviewed a man named Clarence Robinson who saw the car on fire from his home. He told reporters, "I heard a big bang, like an explosion, and I got up out the bed and looked out the window and I saw a fire."

Meanwhile, the crew at Harbor Shores has launched a GoFundMe campaign for Joi's family. Her mother, Sonia Wright McAfee has been a staff member at Harbor Shores since 2009. Joi leaves behind four children aged 11 to 17 who all attend the Benton Harbor Public Schools. The GoFundMe campaign seeks donations to help cover funeral expenses at Robbins Brothers Funeral Home in Benton Harbor and living expenses for the children. Here's a link to that campaign started today by Melody Prather at Harbor Shores:
Joi's brother, Robert Whaley played with the NBA's Utah Jazz before co-founding Prepn4Pros in Utah, a non-profit organization created for kids to improve their skills both on and off the basketball court. 

(Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mr. Nichols as having been Ms. Barnes boyfriend. That was a reference provided by friends, however family members say that was not the case. The family is also still awaiting personal confirmation from the Medical Examiner's office regarding the accident, and have been working to get further details since Sunday.)
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