NEW YORK (AP) — A speeding driver clipped a highway divider and damaged a tire before her SUV plunged off a highway and into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, killing three generations of a family, including three children, police said Monday.
Maria Gonzalez was believed to have been driving 68 mph in a 50 mph zone when she bumped the concrete barrier between the two directions of the highway and the left front tire went off kilter. Police said she was likely going with the flow of traffic on the Bronx River Parkway, which is often faster.
The SUV skittered Sunday across three lanes of traffic, hit a concrete curb on the right and went airborne over a 4-foot-tall fence. The vehicle flipped in midair and landed about six stories below in an unoccupied part of the Bronx Zoo. All seven people on board were killed.
The medical examiner's office on Monday ruled the deaths accidental. Autopsies showed that all seven died from blunt force trauma. Police have said all the occupants were wearing seatbelts.
There's no evidence to suggest Gonzalez was texting or on the phone, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
"There's no evidence of a mechanical failure, but the investigation is ongoing," Browne said.
The crash came as the victims drove to a family party with a set of grandparents who were visiting from the Dominican Republic.
Juan Ramon Rosario, who lost his wife, Maria Nunez, and two children, made comments Monday outside his late sister-in-law's house as he left for a funeral home. He was working at a car wash when he heard of the accident.
"It's terrible for him and the whole family," said Andres Fulgencio, a cousin translating for the 34-year-old father of two, who speaks Spanish.
"Right now he can't think. He can't feel," Fulgencio said. "His feelings are deep inside."
The accident was the second in the past year in which a vehicle fell off the same stretch of road. In June, an SUV hit a divider, bounced across 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.
Killed Sunday were Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, both from the Dominican Republic; their daughters, driver Maria Gonzalez, 45, and Maria Nunez, 39; and grandchildren Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10, the daughter of the driver, and Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3, both daughters of Nunez.
The grandparents had arrived from the Dominican Republic three days earlier, relatives said. They had 13 children, six of whom live in the United States. The SUV had just picked up the grandparents to take them from one home to another for family festivities.
"This was supposed to be a time of great happiness," said Isabelle Morel, a cousin of two of the victims, also speaking in Spanish through a translator.
On Monday, relatives and friends gathered in front of Maria Gonzalez's home, a two-story white clapboard house in a middle-class neighborhood of the South Bronx. Gonzalez worked at nearby Fordham University in maintenance.
"I don't want to live anymore. I want to die," her husband, Juan Gonzalez, said Monday.
Two flower bouquets and seven tall religious candles lined the sidewalk near the stoop. Behind a grate of a windowsill sat photographs of three young girls, one in pink overalls and a white blouse, another sporting a pixie haircut.
The grandparents' bodies are being flown to the Dominican Republic for their funeral, and the other victims were being prepared for funerals in the Bronx.
The family has opened a bank account and is asking for donations because the cost of burying everyone at once is more than they can afford. A viewing was scheduled for Thursday.
Ronald Werner, deputy chief of the Fire Department of New York, said the crash scene, less than 5 miles from Gonzalez's home, was difficult to see, with contents of the SUV, 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."
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Jim Fitzgerald contributed to this report.
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