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5 years after tragedy, Abbas family still making impact thanks to advocate sister

 5 years after tragedy, Abbas family still making impact thanks to advocate sister

Northville’s Abbas family — Ali, Issam, Rima, Isabella and Giselle — made a massive impact on their community before they were killed by a drunk driver in January of 2019.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas each year, Northville’s Abbas family — parents Issam and Rima; and children Ali, Isabella and Giselle — would pack a Radio Flyer red wagon with gifts they would joyfully deliver to their friends and neighbors.

“They believed it was the small acts of kindness that created the biggest impacts,” explained Rana Abbas Taylor, Rima’s sister.

The heart-warming gift-giving tradition — and a variety of other community-enhancing efforts the family lovingly participated in — ended on Jan. 6, 2019, when a drunken driver, traveling the wrong way on I-75 near Lexington, Kentucky, collided with the Abbas family’s vehicle as they returned home from a Florida vacation.

All five members of the Abbas family died in the crash, forever changing the lives of those who knew and loved them.

They made a difference

Members of the Abbas family were difference-makers, Taylor emphasized — from Rima’s role as a doctor and administrator for Beaumont Health (“Healing people was ingrained in Rima’s soul,” Taylor said); to Issam’s lives-changing profession as an attorney; to the children’s caring ways that left their friends, classmates and teachers at Amerman Elementary School and Hillside Middle School devastated.

Rana Abbas Taylor
Rana Abbas Taylor

A lifelong advocate, Taylor revealed she suffered a numbing, indescribable grief during the several months following the tragedy.

“After I suffered fundamental loss like that — by fundamental loss, I mean when your everyday life is monumentally shifted and will never be the same — nothing else mattered to me; I went numb,” Taylor said.

A turning point unfolded in October of 2019 when Taylor was contacted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chief Government Affairs Officer Stephanie Manning, who asked Taylor if she would attend a press event, the focus of which was in-the-works legislation that would mandate the integration of advanced vehicle technology that had the potential to end drunken driving.

Life-altering meeting

“Initially, I politely declined,” Taylor said. “It was too much, too soon after losing my family.

“But after a lot of deep thought and conversations with my husband (Tom Taylor), I decided to go.”

Taylor’s change of heart led to a pre-media event meeting with Manning at a Washington, D.C. coffee shop that changed the deeply-grieving Northville resident’s life.

“Stephanie showed me documents that explained how automotive suppliers have developed technology that could safely — without being intrusive or punitive to the driver — be installed in cars and prevent drunken driving,” Taylor reflected.

“Then Stephanie looked me in the eyes and said something I will never forget. She said, ‘I am so very sorry for what happened to your family, but I need you to know that because of them, we are going to end drunk driving’.”

Taylor’s voice trembled and she fought back tears as she recalled the unforgettable meeting.

“When I heard that, something in me that had been closed since the day my family died opened up,” she said. “That’s when I made the decision to engage.”

‘Personal heroes’

From that day forward, Taylor joined forces with governmental leaders, MADD representatives and families of victims of drunken driving to fight for the passage of The Honoring Abbas Family Legacy (HALT) Drunk Driving Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, mandating automakers install alcohol detection systems in all new vehicles by 2025.

The Abbas family pose for a photo taken not long before their lives were taken by a drunken driver
The Abbas family pose for a photo taken not long before their lives were taken by a drunken driver

“The victims and survivors I’ve come to know through this experience have become my personal heroes,” Taylor said.

“The great thing about the technology that is available is that it’s passive. You only know it’s there when it has to do what it’s meant to do — pull the car over to the side of the road to prevent the driver from harming himself or herself, and from harming other innocent drivers.”

Taylor said the technology has the potential to save 10,000 lives every year.

Rima would be proud

When Taylor was asked how proud her sister would be of her efforts, tears welled up in her eyes.

“I know she would be proud,” she said. “She would want me to continue to fight for this cause until the technology is installed in every car that rolls off an assembly line.”

A recent social-media post by General Motors CEO Mary Barra provided evidence that Taylor’s mission is impacting automotive decision-makers. To paraphrase, Barra tweeted that, “We have the (alcohol impaired detection technology) and I think it’s coming and it’s going to be good for everybody.”

A plaque at the gravesite of the Abbas family.
A plaque at the gravesite of the Abbas family

Taylor choked up as she described how supportive the Northville community has been toward her throughout the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2019.

“I am so grateful to be part of such a special community,” she said.

Moments before being interviewed for this article, Taylor was busy wrapping presents that she and her husband will place in the Abbas family’s Radio Flyer red wagon and distribute to friends and family.

The Abbas family’s generous spirit still lives — five years after their irreplaceable lives were lost due to a preventable tragedy.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

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Ed Wright

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