A tractor-trailer rear-ended their silver Toyota Camry, leaving a tangle of crushed metal.
Only their 18-year-old daughter Nicole, a freshman at Georgia Southern, survived the crash that was heard throughout neighborhoods along the highway.
Mallett, 51; his wife, known as “Miss Jackie,” 49; 12-year-old Drew, a student at Stephenson Middle School; and the family dog all died. Nicole was treated for minor injuries at a New Jersey hospital and released.
News of their deaths sent shock waves through their Carriage Trace subdivision in Stone Mountain and through Lithonia, where the family had operated a successful Golden Krust Bakery & Grill franchise since 2006. Jackie Mallett was also an administrative assistant at Stephenson Middle.
On Wednesday, customers arriving to pick up lunch at the restaurant, which opened for two days after being closed on Dec. 28 on the news of the accident, were stunned to learn that they had lost beloved friends.
The Malletts relocated to the United States from Jamaica when they were young. They settled in Stone Mountain 15 years ago and acquired the Golden Krust franchise in 2006. It quickly became a popular hangout for many in the Caribbean-American community.
Fliers taped to the door and windows of the restaurant in the Rockbridge Square Shopping Plaza on Wednesday notified the public of visitation, wake and funeral arrangements on Jan. 4 at Gregory B. Levett Funeral Home on Flat Shoals Parkway between 1 and 8 p.m. and the funeral service at 11 a.m. on Jan. 5 at Tabernacle Assembly of God Church, 1580 Agape Way, also in Decatur.
At a Jan. 2 candlelight prayer vigil in front of the restaurant, more than 50 family members, friends and customers remembered the Malletts as generous, conscientious and hard-working business owners who built a personal bond with customers.
Jacqueline Hawthorne-Robinson, a family friend and owner of the Golden Krust franchise on South Hairston Road, said the Malletts’ sudden death is a great loss.
“We really loved them,” she said. “We’re going to miss them. They were a super family.”
The family was returning to Georgia after visiting Ainsworth Mallett’s ailing mother, Prudencia Mallett, 82.
Hundreds of people also remembered the family at a Dec. 30 candlelight vigil at Stephenson Middle School.
On Wednesday, a makeshift memorial of flowers, balloons and teddy bears crowded the entrance of the restaurant, which closed again after the vigil. Hawthorne-Robinson said it’s up to the family if it reopens.
“We’re here to support them anyway we can,” she said.
Golden Krust employee Yanique Hawkins was operating the restaurant on Wednesday. She said Nicole was doing “OK physically.”
Susan Edwards, another employee, said she has been trading text messages with Nikki nearly every day since the accident.
“She’s coping but has moments when she starts crying,” she said.
Edwards said Nicole is expected back in Atlanta for her family’s funeral service.
Alyson Gray, a regular customer, said she never had a bad experience at the restaurant.
“They’re always kind, always accommodating,” said Gray, gazing at the flowers and funeral notice in the window. “Great people. I’m in shock. My deepest condolences to the daughter and the rest of the family.”