Forrest City, Ark., businessman Majed "Mike" Attaharwi remains free on his own recognizance after he admitted to fatally running over bicyclist on Saturday, June 28.
He said he gave chase because the victim, James Holland, stole something from him. However, St. Francis County prosecutors and friends of the victim allege it was murder.
It wasn't as if they were strangers. Friends of Mr. Holland said on occasion he did some work for Attaharwi over the years. But, while they don't claim to know their full relationship they insist one thing was for certain - that the 59-year-old would never steal from him or anybody.
As the owner of his own auto body shop and car wash in Forrest City, Charles "Soul" Howard, knows the sound of a smooth running engine. But last Saturday it was a calamitous noise in the street which drew him to look outside his garage door.
"That's what I thought it was. The dumpster," Howard said. "I eased on out the backdoor here and then I saw that over there on the telephone pole. It was awful. Wen I got there that boy was already dead."
What the auto mechanic saw was the frantic aftermath of a fatal hit and run which ended in the death of Mr. Holland and a charge of First Degree Murder leveled against Attaharwi. Forrest City Police Chief E.P. Reynolds said the incident took place less than two blocks from department headquarters.
"After some kind of conflict, the driver did come in contact with the bicyclist, struck him with his automobile, with his van, pinning the bicyclist against the pole resulted in his death," Chief Reynolds said.
"I saw the boy between the telephone pole and the truck, wedged up in there, just like that," Howard said. "I saw him jump out his truck and asked me if I had a cellphone. I told him, no. He ran on up there to his store."
While Mr. Holland died instantly, it's what's happened or hasn't happened, to the 53-year old Attaharwi that's beginning to upset people in the Arkansas community. Chief Reynolds confirmed both Mr. Holland and Attaharwi, who owns a school uniform clothing store, were believed to have had a working relationship in the past.
Attaharwi allegedly told police at the scene, he was following the victim because he attempted to steal something from his store; an allegation Howard insists didn't fit the profile of the man who was his lifelong friend.
"We both been here a long time and I ain't never known him to steal anything from anybody or rob anybody," Howard said.
"The motive behind it, the things that led up to this episode, we're looking for answers," added Chief Reynolds.
Community members want some answers, too. They want to know why, after being charged with First Degree Murder in St. Francis County District Court on Monday, was Attaharwi released on his own recognizance until a trial date is set. Especially, considering his previous criminal record that included an Arkansas State Police 1996 arrest for felony theft by receiving and possessing a firearm. He was fined $200,000 and placed on probation.
Just six years ago, Attaharwi was arrested by Forrest City Police on charges that included operating a business without a license and selling pornography to minors. He was fined more than $1,300 in that case. The outrage in Forrest City is beginning to boil.
"Neighborhood figures, you know something going to be done," said Odell Lucas, who thinks Attaharwi should be jailed. "We don't want to start no riot right away."
"We certainly tried to assure them we will do all we can as the police department to ensure that they get the just they deserve," Chief Reynolds added.
"I ain't going to change any words for nobody," Howard said. "I can't tell them folks what to do up there in that jailhouse. Keep my tail out from up there."
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