Driver pleads guilty in Charlotte crash that killed 2, including Afghan refugee

CHARLOTTE — A driver pleaded guilty in court Thursday to a crash that killed two women in 2022, one of whom was a refugee from Afghanistan.

23-year-old Nabila Rasoul was walking with Enedina Fernandez, 75, in February 2022 when they were hit by a car on East W.T. Harris Boulevard at Duncroft Lane.

Police said the driver, 21-year-old James Payne, was speeding and was impaired. Payne was charged with two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, DWI, reckless driving, and misdemeanor child abuse. He was also charged for having an open container of an alcoholic drink in a motor vehicle, along with several other traffic offenses.

Now, there’s a sense of closure following a year of uncertainty and heartbreak for the families of Rasoul and Fernandez.


“When your love is gone for good, it’s not easy,” said Nabila Rasoul’s husband, Ahmad Rasoul.

Nabila also left three children behind.

In court Thursday, Payne pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Each count carries a 16-month minimum sentence. The second sentence was suspended pending his successful completion of three years of supervised probation.

Payne was also ordered to pay more than $8,000 in restitution to the families and be in a substance abuse program while in prison.

The victims’ families are hopeful that his punishment can keep this from happening again.

“Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, other than getting the news of her passing,” said Christopher Fernandez, the son of Dina Fernandez.

Dina was friends with Nabila and was helping her learn English.

Nabila’s husband and Dina’s son and daughter had mixed emotions about Payne’s plea.

“He’s a young man, he’s my daughter’s age,” said Dina’s daughter, Melissa Fernandez. “I can’t imagine having this fate at that young age.”

“It’s not easy to know Nabila’s not coming back,” Ahmad said. “It’s very difficult for us to know Nabila is not with us right now.”

Channel 9′s Erica Bryant first met Ahmad Rasoul last spring as he celebrated his son, Baktash, turning 5 years old. It was just three months after Nabila’s death, and he was learning to be a single father to three young children while still learning a new country and a new way of life.

Sam Hatcher has been helping him through the process. Hatcher said Thursday there is no good ending in this case.

“No sentence is going to make a difference in their lives, and for the other family -- the defendant’s family -- they suffered loss,” he said.

Payne read a statement in court Thursday, saying, “I would first like to apologize to the families. I was being irresponsible and I should have never been behind the wheel that day.”

“I do believe in restorative justice, I don’t think a young man like that -- what can you get out of jail? I hope he uses that time wisely,” Melissa Fernandez said.

Dina’s children had asked the court to include some sort of community service in Payne’s sentence, so the judge included 120 hours of community service. He’ll be speaking to students about the impact of drinking and driving.

The DA’s office shared the following statement with Channel 9 about the case:

James Payne pled guilty today to two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 16-29 months in prison. He was also sentenced to an additional 16-29 months in prison; that sentence was suspended pending his successful completion of 36 months of supervised probation. As conditions of his probation, Payne was ordered not to drive during his probation, and he must undergo a substance abuse assessment and complete any recommended treatment.

“Over the last year, members of our Homicide Team have had the opportunity to get to know the families of Mrs. Rasoul, a young mother who was looking forward to beginning a new life here in the U.S., and Mrs. Fernandez, a mother and grandmother who lived a life of service. These families have suffered immeasurable loss. We continue to hold them in our prayers.

“In every case, it is our duty to evaluate all available evidence and consider that evidence alongside a number of other factors, including N.C. sentencing laws. State sentencing laws set a range of penalties based on the type of offense and the defendant’s prior criminal history. Payne’s lack of criminal history means that if he were to plead guilty as charged or even be convicted at trial by a jury, state law dictates that the range of penalties that could be imposed by a judge includes the possibility of an entirely probationary sentence with no time in custody. In evaluating this case, our prosecutors found that the devastating results of Payne’s actions warranted a prison term, and they worked to make a plea agreement that holds Payne accountable by ensuring a prison sentence, as well as an additional probationary sentence that requires him to undergo a substance abuse assessment and treatment.”

(WATCH PREVIOUS: Family of Afghan refugees coping months after mother killed in tragic accident)