Authorities are trying to understand why the vehicle drove off the highway, jumped a guardrail, and crashed—upside down—on zoo grounds, said CBS News. The deadly accident took place just after noon on Sunday. Fox News Latino noted that not only did all seven people in the vehicle die, all seven were from three generations of the same family that lived just miles from the crash.
The SUV plummeted between 50 and 100 feet (media reports vary) from a Bronx River Parkway overpass and into a zoo ravine. Among the dead are three children, said Fox News Latino. “Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific and this is one of them,” FDNY deputy Chief Ronald Werner said, wrote Fox News. The SUV crossed three lanes of traffic before crashing into woods at the Bronx Zoo in an area that, said Mary Dixon of the Bronx Zoo, is neither open to the public nor near animal exhibits, wrote Fox News Latino. There were no other injuries.
Authorities said the SUV was crushed. “Units arrived on the scene, and they found a vehicle upside-down, with occupants inside the vehicle,” said Werner, wrote CBS News. CBS Station WCBS reported that the victims were identified as Jacob Nunez (85) and Ana Julia Martinez (81); their daughters, Maria Gonzalez (45), who was driving; Maria Nunez (39); and three grandchildren, Niely (7) and Marly (3) Rosario and Jocelyn Gonzalez (20). All seven were pronounced dead at the scene.
“The injuries were quite horrific,” said the FDNY’s Howard Sickles, according to CBS News. “In 30 years, I’ve seen something like this once or twice. Everybody was taken aback by it,” Sickles noted. The medical examiner is expected to release the victims’ cause of death later today, said Fox News Latino.
Police and firefighters speculated about the SUV’s speed, which could have been a factor; however, the cause has not been determined, said CBS News. In addition to looking at safety issues on the highway, guardrail height will be reviewed by city agencies, said Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “My prayers, as well as those of my office and all Bronxites, go out to the families of the seven victims,” he said, wrote Fox News Latino.
“They were a good, wholesome family,” neighbor, Felicia Lee (29), told the Daily News. “The mother always kept an eye on her children. They were typical little girls. They were gorgeous. They were so pretty,” Lee said, wrote Fox News Latino. “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,” he added, Fox News Latino reported.
The SUV, a 2004 Honda Pilot, was driving south on the parkway when it bounced off the median and crossed three southbound lanes, said Fox News Latino. The Honda Pilot hit the curb, became airborne, and plunged into the zoo. “Obviously, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed,” Werner said. “It hit something that caused it to become airborne,” wrote Fox News Latino, which noted that no other vehicles appear to have been involved. All of the SUV’s occupants were wearing their seatbelts.
According to a relative, the grandparents arrived from the Dominican Republic three days prior. The couple had 13 children—six live in the United States. The family group was on its way to a family party, said Fox News Latino. “I don’t want to live any more. I want to die,” said Juan Gonzalez, Maria’s husband.
This was the second accident in the past year in which a vehicle fell from the same area of the Bronx River Parkway. Last June, the driver of an SUV was heading north on the parkway when the vehicle lost control, hit a divider, bounced through two lanes of traffic, and fell 20 feet over a guardrail, said Fox News Latino. The SUV crashed on a pickup truck in a parking lot; both passengers were hurt.