Body dragged for miles on New York highways

February 11, 2009 9:16:30 PM PST
Police say a person was hit by a car, then swept under another vehicle and dragged nearly 20 miles through New York City before that driver realized it. The 52-year-old driver of the second car discovered the body of the unidentified man under his vehicle near the intersection of Neptune Avenue and Brighton 10th Street, police said.

Police said the victim was first hit around 6:15 a.m. in the Corona section of Queens by the driver of a black Ford Expedition, Gustavo Acosta, who immediately called 911. When police arrived, the victim was gone.

At some point, a cargo van drove over the body. The driver of the cargo van said he noticed cars swerving, but didn't see the initial accident and assumed the drivers were avoiding a pothole.

"The van comes and rides right over the body and as it goes by there's no body there," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. "The body was basically fish-hooked by the plate."

The man's chest was hooked by a steel plate under the van known as the skid plate, used to protect the transmission and undercarriage. It's not clear if the victim was alive at that point.

The van drove a winding path, going from Corona, Queens to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, taking the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway and the Belt Parkway to get there with a man stuck underneath.

Police said the driver, Manuel Lituma Sanchez, had no idea he hit the victim until the end of his trip, when a bystander told him something was dragging under his van.

"He did stop once during his trip, but he didn't see anything unusual. He got back in the car and people were signaling him to stop the vehicle. He stopped his vehicle and that's when the body was discovered underneath his car," Kelly said.

That happened in Coney Island 45 minutes after the initial accident.

Investigators were working to identify the body, which was largely intact but horribly battered. The man's heels were shorn off. His clothes and several layers of skin on his legs and buttocks were worn off. The back of his head was worn through to the scalp.

A business card, Western Union receipt and a broken iPhone were found in the man's pockets, said Browne.

The story stunned residents.

"How do you hit somebody and drive so many miles? You have to know something more," Luis Milian said.

Police said both drivers called 911 independently. The first one saying he thought he hit someone and the second reporting the gruesome discovery underneath his vehicle.

Police jacked up the vehicle and pulled the body from under the van. The battered corpse, found face up with the shirt and pants shredded, was covered with a white sheet as officers investigated and talked to the shellshocked, exhausted driver in a police car. The victim's bruised and bloody legs could be seen protruding from the sheet in front of the van.

"We are retracing the path looking for body parts. It is heartbreaking to think to the family, the victim won't even be recognizable. Really tragic," Kelly said.

Police retraced the van's route and recovered a blue jacket believed to have belonged to the victim, who was described as Hispanic, in his 20s or 30s and between 5 feet 2 and 5 feet 4 inches tall.

Police had initially believed it was a 17-mile journey, but did a closer examination of the route realized it was 19.8 miles instead.

Some information from The Associated Press