NY Daily News - April 30, 2012by Henrick Karoliszyn, Vera Chinese, Joe Kemp AND Helen Kennedy
Seven dead when van plunges 60 feet off the Bronx River ParkwayTHREE GENERATIONS OF a Bronx family died Sunday when a speeding SUV carrying seven people -- including three little girls -- vaulted off an overpass and plunged 60 feet into the Bronx Zoo, killing everyone in the car.
All of the victims were found inside the crumpled, upside-down white minivan in an overgrown area beneath the Bronx River Parkway. Everyone died on impact, police said.
Rescue workers had to cut the bodies out of their seat belts.
"I've been in the Fire Department for 30 years. Sometimes you come up on events that are horrific," said FDNY Deputy Chief Ronald Werner. "This was one of them."
Killed were 84-year-old Jacobo Nunez; his wife, Ana Julia, 80; two of their daughters, Maria Nunez, 39, and Maria Nunez-Gonzalez, 45, and their granddaughters, 7-year-old Niely, 3-year-old Marly and 10-year-old Jocelyn. "They lost the whole family in one hit," said a cousin of the victims, Marcelo Alvarez, reeling from the tragedy.
"They are all dead."
The seven members of the tight-knit Dominican family died only a few blocks from their destination: a big get-together at the home of Maria Nunez-Gonzalez on Taylor Ave.
"They were a good, wholesome family," said a neighbor, Felicia Lee, 29.
"I can't believe it. I'm so sad, very sad. It's so horrible," she said through tears.
"The mother always kept an eye on her children. They were typical little girls. They were gorgeous. They were so pretty," Lee said.
The elder Nunez and his wife lived in Santo Domingo. They had arrived Thursday for a two-month visit to see their daughters.
The white Honda Pilot driven by Nunez-Gonzalez was traveling southbound at about 70 mph in a 50-mph zone of the Bronx River Parkway when the 12:30 p.m accident occurred. The van was in the left lane when it glanced off the median near exit 5, careened across three lanes of traffic and went off the edge, police said.
"It hit something that caused it to become airborne," Werner said.
The car never even touched the 4-foot-high iron guardrail, though it left traces of motor oil on the rail as it sailed over it.
A source said there were no skid marks found on the road before the van hit the center median, but there were skid marks leading up to where the SUV went off the edge.
Investigators believe Nunez-Gonzalez was distracted before losing control and hitting the median. Witnesses said the left front tire blew out, but police believe the blowout did not cause the crash but happened after the SUV hit the divider, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
"We believe that the driver may have struck a (temporary) barrier and, reacting to the strike of that barrier, the driver makes a severe turn, a right-hand turn and goes over the (side), which is a 60-foot drop," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
No one on the ground was hurt.
A zoo employee said the SUV fell onto the southeast portion of the 265-acre zoo property, in a remote area near where trams are parked.
"It's in a nonpublic area," she said. "No visitors, no animals and no exhibits are affected."
The southbound lanes of the Bronx River Parkway were closed for three hours as officials tried to determine what caused the accident.
No other cars were believed to be involved.
A diaper bag was found in the wreckage, so officials used thermal imaging cameras and a cadaver dog to search the area for a baby that might have been thrown clear.
None was found.
"The injuries were quite horrific," Emergency Medical Service Deputy Chief Howard Sickles said. "I haven't seen anything like this in years."
The overgrown brush made it difficult for rescue workers to reach the vehicle, and one firefighter was injured during the search for victims.
The spot has seen its share of horrifying accidents, including a 2006 crash that killed six members of one family.
Last June, the driver of an SUV lost control, hit a divider, careened through two lanes of traffic and fell 20 feet over a guardrail, landing on a pickup truck.
The Nunez family bodies were taken to Jacobi Medical Center.
Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this tragic time."
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. also issued a statement, saying, "My prayers, as well as those of my office and all Bronxites, go out to the families of the seven victims. . . .
"Our thoughts are with them as they try to grasp the horrific tragedy that has befallen them."
With Edgar Sandoval, Michael J. Feeney and Vera Chinese