7 dead in Bronx River Parkway crash

Police investigate the destroyed van that plunged over the Bronx River Parkway, Sunday April 29, 2012, in New York. Authorities say the out-of-control van plunged off a roadway near the Bronx Zoo, killing seven people, including three children. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

April 30, 2012 3:56:27 AM PDT
An out-of-control van careened across several lanes of traffic on a New York City highway overpass Sunday, then plunged more than 50 feet off the side of the road and landed in a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, killing all seven people aboard, including three children.

Police identified the dead adults as 85-year-old Jacob Nunez and 81-year-old Ana Julia Martinez, both from the Dominican Republic, and their daughters, 45-year-old Maria Gonzalez and 39-year-old Maria Nunez, both from the Bronx. Police say Gonzalez was driving.

The children were identified as 10-year-old Jocelyn Gonzalez, the daughter of the driver, and 7-year-old Niely Rosario and 3-year-old Marly Rosario, both daughters of Nunez.

In one horrific moment, their Honda Pilot went from the family car to a mass coffin.

All seven victims inside suffered the same last breath together.

The accident happened around 12:30 Sunday afternoon, when many families are on the road. Somehow the SUV lost control, bounced off the barrier, screamed across the southbound lanes of the Bronx River Parkway and kept going, right over the guardrail.

Experts believe it flew another 75 feet in the air before it began the sickening, fatal plunge: a fast free fall about 60 feet down into a wooded section of the Bronx Zoo.

Thankfully, it is a remote area where visitors are not allowed and where there are no animals.

Even the most experienced emergency crews who raced to the scene were shaken by what they found inside.

"Sometimes you come across events that are horrific," FDNY Deputy Chief Ronald Werner said. "And this was one of them."

"Everybody was taken back by it because everybody has a relative," FDNY Deputy Chief Howard Sickles said. "Everybody knows a child, everybody has a grandparent. And you can see the emotion on everybody. It's very upsetting."

Officials say all the victims were buckled in, which explains why their bodies were not thrown from the Honda.

But crews did check the surrounding area just in case there were more passengers.

In the end, the medical examiner needed a caravan to remove all the victims.

It was a bitter procession followed by the crumpled pieces of the car.

As accident investigators try to find out why and how Maria Gonzalez lost control, one family is left mourning three generations of their own.

"Obviously the vehicle was travelling at a high rate of speed," Werner said. "It hit something that caused it to become airborne. It travelled over the railing and a distance of maybe 75 to 80 feet before it came down and hit the ground."

The vehicle lay mangled hours later, its right doors ripped off and strewn amid the trees along with items from the car. Next to the heavily wooded area are subway tracks and a train yard.

The southbound side of the highway was closed briefly Sunday afternoon while police investigated but later reopened.

The medical examiner's office said it expected to release the victims' causes of death on Monday.

The accident was the second in the past year where a car fell off the same stretch of the Bronx River Parkway. Last June, the driver of an SUV heading north lost control and the SUV hit a divider, bounced through two lanes of traffic and fell 20 feet over a guardrail, landing on a pickup truck in a parking lot. The two people in the SUV were injured.

City agencies will be asked to look at safety issues on the highway including guardrail height, Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement Sunday.

"My prayers, as well as those of my office and all Bronxites, go out to the families of the seven victims," he said.

The wreck was the deadliest in New York City since the driver of a tour bus returning from a Connecticut casino in March 2011 lost control and slammed into a pole that sheared the bus nearly end to end, killing 14 passengers.

In 2009, just north of New York City in suburban Westchester County, a woman carrying a vanload of children drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a highway before colliding with an SUV. Eight people were killed, including four children.

An autopsy determined that the woman, Diane Schuler, had downed at least 10 drinks and had smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the wreck.


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