A man is mourning the deaths of his wife, daughter and five other family members who were killed when their SUV plunged off an overpass near New York City's Bronx Zoo. NBC's Jeff Rossen reports.
Three generations of a family died in a crash just a few miles from home when the SUV they were traveling in plunged more than 50 feet off a highway overpass and into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, killing all seven aboard, including three children.
"Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific and this is one of them," FDNY deputy Chief Ronald Werner said shortly after the crash.
Authorities were trying to determine what caused Sunday's accident that killed Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, both from the Dominican Republic, their daughters, Maria Gonzalez, 45, and Maria Nunez, 39, and three grandchildren. Police say Gonzalez was driving.
The children were identified as Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10, the daughter of the driver, Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3, both daughters of Nunez.
Relatives said the grandparents had arrived from the Dominican Republic three days earlier. They had 13 children, six of whom live in the United States. They were headed to a family party when the accident occurred.
The 2004 Honda Pilot was headed south on the Bronx River Parkway when it bounced off the median, crossed three southbound lanes and hit the curb, causing the vehicle to become airborne, continue over the guardrail and plunge 59 feet, police said.
Maria Gonzalez, the driver, worked at Fordham University in maintenance. Her husband, Juan Gonzalez, said in the five years she had her license she never had any incidents behind the wheel.
Juan Gonzalez and his wife had been married 22 years. The last time he spoke to his kids they asked him to bring home milk for the party, he said.
"I don't want to live any more. I want to die," Juan Gonzalez said.
The cause of the crash, which happened around 12:30 p.m., was unclear, and police haven't yet said how fast the SUV was traveling. A city official said the guardrail's height would be one of the safety issues investigated.
"Obviously, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed," Werner said. "It hit something that caused it to become airborne."
The SUV landed in a wooded area on the edge of zoo property that's closed to the public and far from any animal exhibits, zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon said. 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.
Werner said the crash scene, less than five miles from Gonzalez's Bronx home, was difficult to see, with contents of the van, including a pink schoolbag, strewn about.
"When you see young kids that have been hurt or injured or lose their life, it's always harder than if you find someone that's an elder age," Werner said. "It affects all our units."
Werner said that it doesn't appear that any other vehicles were involved in the accident.
Police said all the victims were wearing seat belts.
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.