Rico Williams pulled out of Hits Sports Bar and Grill and turned onto Bloomfield Drive.
With his brother Deon riding in the passenger seat, they headed home to east Macon after a night of dancing and drinking.
They’d been out celebrating Rico’s 24th birthday.
Rico made a right onto Eisenhower Parkway. It+ was about 5 a.m.
As they cruised by Macon Mall and slowed for a red light, Deon heard a bang. Gunshots.
Rico took a bullet to the head. Another bullet hit Deon’s hand.
The car crashed in a ditch across from the State Farmers Market.
Rico didn’t survive to see the sunrise.
Four years later, Deon still relives Dec. 28, 2008, the day his brother was killed.
The memories pop into his mind at unexpected times and in his dreams.
He says it’s like it’s happening all over again.
Although police know a street gang was responsible for the shooting, detectives don’t know who pulled the trigger -- or why.
Macon police Sgt. Cedric Penson knows there are people who know what happened that night.
One person Penson has talked to is Rico’s best friend, who had ridden to the club with the Williams brothers earlier that night.
The friend, who dated Rico’s sister, got a phone call just before the Williams brothers left the club and said he had to go see a woman.
He didn’t get into the car. Minutes later, the brothers were shot.
Rico’s friend is a member of the gang suspected in the shooting.
It’s unsettling for Deon to know the people who shot him and killed his brother are still out there -- and that people won’t talk with the police.
“I never know if they’re going to come back and finish the job,” he said. “I felt like they meant for me and my brother to die.”
* * *
Marico Deontae “Rico” Williams was a middle child in a string of seven siblings.
After working a stint as a cook at Kentucky Fried Chicken on Shurling Drive, he took a job at Cherokee Brick.
Rico had dreams of becoming an electrician and planned to enroll at Central Georgia Technical College in January 2009.
He was father to two boys and a girl.
Rico and some of his brothers and sisters went to the former Club Money’s on Pio Nono Avenue that Saturday to celebrate Rico’s birthday.
They stayed out into early Sunday morning.
“He was having a good time, laughing and dancing and joking around,” said Keiotta Williams, one of the sisters with him that night.
After leaving Club Money’s, Rico and Deon went to Hits Sports Bar and Grill while the others went home.
Although there was a scuffle in the parking lot at Hits that night, the Williams weren’t involved, Penson said.
When it came time to go home, Rico called one of his sisters to say they were on the way.
Minutes later, bullets were flying into the car.
* * *
At first, Deon thought Rico’s gold Toyota Camry had blown a tire.
Then, he saw Rico lean to the center of the car and he realized the sound was gunfire.
Deon was holding a cell phone when a bullet hit his right hand.
“It knocked the battery and everything out,” he said.
The car ran off the road and wrecked in a ditch in front of a row of car dealerships. The passenger-side door was pinned against a fence.
The loud motor noise Deon had heard at the red light, when the shots started flying, quietened and then roared again as a car drove off on Oglesby Place.
Deon tried to talk to his brother.
Rico’s eyes were shut. He wasn’t talking back.
He was breathing, making a “snoring sound,” Deon said.
After seeing the bullet wound in Rico’s head, Deon climbed out of the car and flagged down a truck on Eisenhower Parkway.
At first, the driver was afraid of Deon and told him to stay back.
The truck pulled off, but the driver did call the police, Deon said.
Deon went back to the car and hid, wrapping Rico in his arms, pulling him to his chest.
“I didn’t know if they were coming back,” he said. “I just stayed that way until the police pulled up.”
* * *
Penson had been working off-duty at Club Money’s that night.
He saw the Williams family come in. He knew one of the sisters.
The detective had just gotten home when he heard a call on his police radio about the shooting.
Then his phone started ringing. He’s one of the police department’s gang unit investigators.
In the days after the killing, police and Williams’ family passed out thousands of fliers seeking information about the case. One still is posted at the police detective bureau.
Rico’s family posted a $1,000 reward to supplement the $1,000 reward offered by Macon Regional CrimeStoppers.
“It was hoping that increasing the value of the reward would get someone to talk, anyone to give any sort of leads,” said LaToya Bronson, one of Rico’s sisters.
Penson said there’s something strange and different about Rico Williams’ case, something that gives him hope he’ll be able to one day make an arrest.
“The majority of the cases I’ve worked since that point have involved somehow a witness or a suspect to this murder,” he said.
While investigating the July 2011 shooting death of 35-year-old Alfred Smith outside Wings Café, formerly known as Hits Sports Bar and Grill, the detective interviewed people and found that the same group of people responsible for that death are suspected of killing Rico Williams.
They’re the Westside Mafia, a street gang with about 50 core influential members, Penson said.
“The problem with it is that people don’t want to talk about it. They’re scared of them,” he said. “The fear capability that they have is tremendous.”
There’s no evidence Williams was a gang member. He had friends in the gang from his childhood and school, Penson said.
Although the murder case is 4 years old, Penson won’t hand it over to a cold case detective.
As police arrest gang members for other crimes, Penson is hoping the suspects will give him information about the Williams case, even if it means brokering a deal.
“The only way I think we’re going to be able to solve this case now is to apply pressure to other members on other cases,” Penson said. “That’s my goal.”
After someone came forward with information in the Smith case, police filed for two arrest warrants. Martin Kintray Kendall, 30, already was in the county jail on an unrelated armed robbery charge.
Officers still are looking for 19-year-old Akobeyan D. Howard. When they find him, he’ll be charged with murder in Smith’s case.
Penson also wants to talk with him about Rico Williams.
“He has the key,” Penson said.
* * *
Family members will gather Thursday at Rico’s grave at Stone Creek Baptist Church in Twiggs County.
Each year, they sing a hymn or say a prayer before releasing silver and white helium-filled balloons into the sky.
This year, there will be 28 balloons, representing what would have been his 28th birthday.
Sometimes it’s hard for Bronson to believe her brother is dead.
“You know what happened, but you can’t believe it,” she said.
She’s afraid she’ll never have answers to why Rico was killed that night.
“It’s kind of hard to move on without having the answers that you need in order to deal with it,” she said.
Wanda Williams, Rico’s mother, said she’s stopped going to areas of west and south Macon since the killing.
“I can be in one of the stores on Houston Avenue or Montpelier ... or even in a restaurant. I’m sitting in here in a store with some of the guys that took my son’s life,” she said. “That really bothers me.”
As each December comes and goes, Penson looks at his calendar.
The detective sees Christmas and Rico’s birthday two days later.
“The idea of not giving an answer to that family is ... hard for me,” he said. “I’m a big guy, but it just kills me.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.