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EUTAW, Ala. (AP) — A street race in Eutaw was a chance for some residents of the rural west Alabama city to gather in an area with little else to do on a Saturday night.
Relatives of Maurice Wedgeworth, 22, said the race was also likely an opportunity for the unemployed father of four to earn some money.
Instead, Wedgeworth was arrested after a crash on a tree lined, two-lane county road killed three bystanders and injured nine others including three children ages 6, 7, and 9.
Rodney Hutton, 30, Jalesa Kiara Merritt, 22, and Jhayden Pippen, 3, died after being hit by the 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Wedgeworth had been driving, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials have said.
Wedgeworth was racing Clyde Lawson, 27, who was driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, but details on the nature of the crash haven't yet been released and the crash is still under investigation.
Both drivers fled the scene and Wedgeworth surrendered to authorities at a local hospital, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Senior Trooper Reginal King said in an emailed statement.
Lawson was taken into custody about 190 miles away in Huntsville and had been returned to Greene County as of Monday night, King said.
Both men were charged with three counts of manslaughter and a count of fleeing the scene of an accident with injuries, King said. They were being held in the county jail and bond hadn't been set as of Monday night, King said.
Street races have been going on in the area for years and are typically organized among friends and relatives who grew up around each other, Wedgeworth's aunt, Kimberly Warren said.
"I know it's hurt him too because most of them was his friends," she said. "He got to impress his friends. Then, no job — so he got to get money some type of way," Warren said, adding that she'd likely have been cheering Wedgeworth on if she weren't at work Saturday evening. Warren was unsure of how much money had been bet on the race.
Greene County is in one of Alabama's poorest regions, known as the Black Belt, and had the fourth highest unemployment rate of 67 Alabama counties at 10.1 percent in November, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
"If I knew how to race a car I'd be trying to sneak and race it too, you know what I'm saying?" Warren said. "Might win some money if you don't have a job."
Wedgeworth's family was familiar with the victims — each of whom was from the city of roughly 2,800 — and Merritt had been dating one of his friends, Wedgeworth's grandmother, Wilma Wedgeworth, said.
"My heart goes out more to those who got killed and their family than my grandbaby," she said. "I love my grandbaby, now. But you know, they got to prepare funerals for their kids," she said.
Warren and Wedgeworth said they hope the crash makes people think twice about participating in street races or watching them along the side of the road.
"It could have been every last one of them, because both of the cars could have lost control." Warren said.
"He got some babies," Wedgeworth said as Maurice Wedgeworth's 3-year-old son, also named Maurice, played in the background. "It could have been his babies standing out there."