A young woman returning home from celebrating her birthday was burned alive early Sunday when the Uber she was riding in was struck by a drunken driver, Cook County prosecutors said — a crash that “destroyed my family’s life,” the victim’s mother said.
The crash happened about 3:20 a.m. Sunday as both vehicles involved in the crash were headed south on Interstate 55 near Damen Avenue, authorities said.
Rami Matariyeh, 22, of Homer Glen faces charges of reckless homicide and aggravated DUI involving death, as well as multiple charges related to leaving the scene of the crash.
In response to the charges, Poulos’ mother Andrea had a harsh message for Matariyeh in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times before his Tuesday bond hearing.
“You destroyed my family’s life,” Andrea Poulos said. “You destroyed — all the people who knew Jamie — all of their lives.”
At the hearing, prosecutors said Matariyeh had been drinking the night before the crash and was driving home with a 23-year-old woman. Matariyeh was allegedly speeding as he “dodged cars” in and out of lanes on the expressway.
The woman in the car with Matariyeh “begged” him to slow down and shut her eyes as he drove because she was afraid, prosecutors said.
At the same time, an Uber was taking home 23-year-old Jamie Poulos and her two friends, Anastacio Morales, 23, and Alex Kariott, 22, who had gone out to celebrate Poulos’ birthday in Boystown, family members said.
When Matariyeh’s 2015 Infiniti Q50 collided with the back of the Uber driver’s Hyundai, the Hyundai burst into flames, prosecutors said.
Morales was able to get out of the burning car. He then helped free the 47-year-old man driving the Uber and Kariott from the burning car.
Morales went back again to try to pull out Poulos, but her legs were trapped inside the car and she was “burned alive,” prosecutors said. Morales was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital with burns to his hands and the 22-year-old woman was taken to Stroger Hospital with second-degree burns to the side of her body. The Uber driver suffered minor injuries.
Morales’ sister, Guayni Quesada, said her brother told her that Poulos was unconscious after the crash. Kariott was expected to undergo surgery on Thursday to treat her burns and remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but was talking and in good spirits, Quesada said.
A good Samaritan who pulled over to help after the crash ran toward Matariyeh’s Infiniti and pulled out the 22-year-old passenger inside as flames from the fully engulfed Hyundai approached the Infiniti. The good Samaritan was able to pull her to safety away from the flames and give her aid until paramedics arrived, prosecutors said. She had suffered a dislocated hip and hip fracture, four rib fractures and multiple cuts.
The good Samaritan was approached by Matariyeh at that time, who tried to get the passenger to leave with him. The good samaritan noted that Matariyeh was slurring his speech and said Matariyeh admitted to him that he was the driver of the Infiniti, prosecutors said.
A Lyft driver who was not involved in the crash, but also pulled over to assist, took cellphone video of the scene. The recording showed Matariyeh standing near his car as the good Samaritan carried Matariyeh’s passenger to safety, prosecutors said.
Matariyeh then got into the Lyft and said “he needed to leave because first-responders were there now,” prosecutors said. The Lyft driver took Matariyeh to a gas station in Oak Lawn and allegedly heard Matariyeh muttering, “What the f— did I do?” in the backseat during the ride, prosecutors said.
At the gas station, the Lyft driver left him and called 911.
Matariyeh then hailed an Uber that took him home to Homer Glen. The attendant at the gas station described Matariyeh as “highly intoxicated” during the 17 minutes he was inside the station, prosecutors said. Will County sheriff’s officers arrived at the house before Matariyeh did and were able to take him into custody until he was handed over to Illinois State Police, authorities said.
Prosecutors said a blood draw showed Matariyeh had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.213 sometime after 5 a.m. He was on probation at the time of the crash for a speeding violation.
A private defense attorney for Matariyeh said he lives with his parents and had graduated from Lockport High School. Matariyeh was working as a subcontractor, the attorney said.
Matariyeh’s father attended the hearing but did not to talk to reporters after the court hearing.
Judge Sophia Atcherson ordered bail set at $100,000 for Matariyeh and told him that if he posts bond he was not allowed to drive, drink or take drugs. Atcherson also ordered electronic monitoring as a condition of bond.
Hero saved some, tried to help Poulos
After the hearing, Morales’ sister, Quesada, said her brother and his friends had done the right thing by taking an Uber home after celebrating Poulos’ birthday. She said she was “frustrated” that Matariyeh allegedly had not.
As Quesada looked into a row of media cameras at the courthouse, she pleaded for people to stop drinking and driving.
“Seriously guys, stop drinking and driving,” said Quesada, fighting back tears. “What is the problem?”
She added: “[We] lost a girl who had a future.”