Five people were killed, including two children, when a speeding SUV blew through two red lights, slammed into a concrete pillar and rolled over several times in Queens early Sunday, police and witnesses said.
The black Mercedes Benz SUV came to rest against a fence and then burst into flames around 3:15 a.m. Emergency workers said the horrific wreck was one of the worst in recent memory.
“This is the worst single car accident I’ve gone to in my career,” said Chief Stephen Browne, a 26-year FDNY veteran. “To see this much human life devastation in a single-car accident on a side street is not normal.”
The 45-year-old driver was barreling east on Atlantic Ave. when she slammed into one of the pillars that supports the AirTrain to Kennedy Airport.
Firefighters went to work extricating victims with three jaws of life tools while simultaneously putting out the engine fire. They pulled two boys, ages 7 and 9, from the rear window of the burning SUV, FDNY officials said. The 9-year-old boy died at the scene.
An 8-year-old girl who was thrown from the vehicle was found dead on the ground about 10 feet from the SUV.
Three women died in the crash. One woman was found dead still wearing her seat belt in the front passenger seat. Another woman was thrown from the SUV and pinned underneath it, officials said.
The driver, her 7 year-old son, and a 26-year-old man ejected from the vehicle survived the crash and were taken to Jamaica Hospital in stable condition, police said.
“It’s not fair,” one distraught relative visiting victims at the hospital said. “The family is still hurting.”
A motorist traveling north on the service road of the Van Wyck Expressway said he had a green light and was crossing the intersection at Atlantic Ave. when the 2008 SUV nearly hit him.
“All I saw was headlights,” said Ryan Jardine, 24. “She ran the light, almost hit us and then hit the pole.”
“She swerved to avoid impacting us,” he added. “We saw the car just hit the pole and it went into a somersault. It just started flipping. It was horrible.”
Cops are investigating whether drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
The passengers had just left a party at the Golden Terrace banquet hall on Atlantic Ave. in Richmond Hill celebrating the conclusion of a two-day annual convention of immigrants from the Nigerian town of Arondizuogu, according to fellow attendees.
“The convention was supposed to bring us together – not end in tragedy,” said Anthony Nwankwo, 49, from Houston, Tex., who attended the 13th annual Arondizuogu Patriotic Union National Congress of North America.