Teen driver in crash that killed 5 children had no license
The 16-year-old driver in a crash that killed five young people did not have a driver's license or permit and may have fallen asleep or become distracted before the SUV veered off a New York highway, officials said Monday.
The car continued straight at a curve on the highway and struck a boulder and then a tree at 12:20 a.m. Sunday, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said at a news conference. Speed does not appear to have been a factor, he said.
“The crash cost the lives of five young people. And that is a tragedy no matter what the details are,” Latimer said. "It was a horrific accident site.”
The victims — three boys and two girls — were identified Monday as Malik Smith, the 16-year-old driver; Anthony Billips Jr., 17; Zahnyiah Cross, 12; Shawnell Cross, 11; and Andrew Billips, 8. They included two sets of siblings, Latimer said.
A 9-year-old boy, the sixth person in the SUV, was the only survivor. Police said he apparently was riding in the rear cargo area of the 2021 Nissan Rogue and escaped out of a rear broken window with the help of a Westchester County police officer who was the first to arrive and found the vehicle in flames. The boy was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.
“He’s just seen five members of his family die. This has got to be an impossible situation for him as a young boy. So the kind of questions that you or I would want to ask him to know these things probably isn’t appropriate until things have been stabilized,” Latimer said.
The SUV had been rented to a relative. Authorities were looking into how the boy had access to the car.
“We’re less concerned at this point about who to blame, but to understand exactly what happened,” Latimer said.
County Public Safety Commissioner Terrance Raynor said the investigation is not "criminal in nature. ”
“As you can imagine, this family is very distraught over the incident and we have had some conversations. However, there’s a lot of follow up conversations to be had with the family. So at this point, I can say that they’ve been cooperative with respect to the questions we’ve asked. However, there is a lot more to go into this investigation,” Raynor said.
The children may have been driving from New Jersey to Derby, Connecticut, where they are believed to have recently moved, when they crashed in Scarsdale, New York, Latimer said.
On Sunday, Matt Conway, the superintendent of schools in Derby, said that he learned the children had recently moved to the area from New York but had not enrolled in the district. Conway said he reached out to a father on Sunday and offered to provide him information about available support in the community for him and his family.