Father knew son in crash that killed 5 was driving without a learner’s permit
NEW YORK — A teenage driver with no license or learner’s permit was distracted or fell asleep behind the wheel of an SUV that crashed and caught fire on the Hutchinson River Parkway, killing him and four underage relatives, authorities said Monday.
There was no supervising adult in, near or trailing the Connecticut-bound Nissan Rogue that crashed into a boulder, hit a tree and burst into flames in Scarsdale, Westchester County, just after midnight Sunday, authorities said.
Killed in the single-car crash were driver Malik Smith, 16, and passengers Anthony Billips, 17, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross 11, and Andrew Billips, 8.
The driver’s dad said he was aware his namesake son was driving without even a learner’s permit.
“Yeah, I was,” Malik Smith told CBS News. “I told him, his mother told him, his older brothers told him: Stop driving without a license, without a permit. Anything happens, you get pulled over, you get in trouble for these things. Stop doing this.”
Anthony Billips, distraught dad of two of the passengers, wrote what he called “the most painful post I ever had to write in my life,” saying that his family had “lost our precious kids in a fatal car accident.”
“The pain we are feeling words (can’t) even express, and we wouldn’t wish this to happen to anyone in this world,” he wrote on Facebook.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the driver appeared to have trouble negotiating a curve.
“We do not believe speed was a factor in this accident,” Latimer told reporters. “It is a road that curves quite a bit. It curves to the left, then goes downhill. The driver did not turn with the roadway, and continued in a straight line.”
Only a 9-year-old boy, riding in the rear cargo area of the SUV, survived, officials said. He escaped out the back of the vehicle, through the shattered liftgate glass, and was taken to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with non-life-threatening injuries.
Latimer knows the road well.
“It’s a road I’m personally familiar with,” he said. “As a matter of fact I drove over that same road two hours before the accident.”
There is no guardrail on the right side of the road.
“It does require a driver to stay alert and move with the changes of the roadway,” Latimer said, adding that the parkway speed limit is 55 mph.
Officials said the driver had neither a driver’s license nor a learner’s permit in Connecticut or New York.
Under New York state law, drivers younger than 18 are prohibited from having more than one passenger unless the passengers are members of their immediate family or there is a passenger older than 21 in the vehicle.
In Connecticut, a 16-year-old is prohibited from driving with passengers under the age of 20 and with nonfamily members. Drivers younger than 18 also may not drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless it is for employment, school, religious activity or medical necessity.
The Westchester County Police Accident Investigation Team and detectives from the county’s general investigations unit are probing the crash. It was not clear if the victims were wearing seat belts. Officials said the fire damage made it difficult to determine much about the seat belts.
“This was a horrific accident,” Latimer said. “It was a horrific accident site.”
Police said the group had been at a mall or family gathering and were on their way to their homes in Connecticut.
Latimer said the vehicle was a rental.
“The vehicle was rented by a relative,” he explained. “It remains under investigation as to how Malik Smith had access to it.”
A motorist witnessed the accident and stopped to offer assistance, according to Latimer. Cops said the motorist let the surviving child sit in his car and call his family.
A county police officer arrived on the scene first, but was unable to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. Local firefighters who arrived a short time later put out the blaze.
Latimer said the driver and all of the victims — three boys and two girls — died from blunt force trauma.
Officials said all five victims were from Connecticut and had just moved to a community there. School officials in the city of Derby, northwest of New Haven, said the boys and girls had not yet enrolled in their new schools.
“It’s the unimaginable,” said Matthew Conway, superintendent of schools in Derby. “Having to now make arrangements for five of your children to be buried is a very difficult thing for anyone — one child, never mind five that you’re going to have to now make arrangements for.”
Despite having just moved to town, the kids were already settling in and making friends.
“He was a nice kid,” said 18-year-old Johnny, a friend of Anthony’s. “The day I met him, he was just with his siblings. He was always around his brothers and sisters. Wherever he went, they went.”
The friend recalled Anthony spending a lot of his time at a local community center in Derby, where the two would talk.
“He took care of his siblings, really,” the teen continued. “It looks like he was taking on a fatherly role.”
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