NY parkway crash victims belonged to family being monitored by child welfare agencies

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Five children who perished over the weekend in a horrific Westchester parkway car crash — including the underage, unlicensed driver — were part of a family being investigated by Connecticut’s child welfare agency, officials said.

Investigators piecing together the accident are still trying to figure out why six minors — a 9-year-old boy survived — were in the rented SUV without adult supervision when the vehicle veered off a winding section of the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale early Sunday and crashed into a large rock and a tree before bursting into flames.

Officials said the victims, ages 8 to 17, were all related, and were on their way to Connecticut when the 16-year-old driver became distracted or fell asleep behind the wheel at about 12:20 a.m.

The children were part of a family that had recently moved to Derby, Connecticut, and had not yet enrolled in school, officials said.

Last month, child welfare agents met with family members, including several of the children involved in the crash, officials said.

“We can confirm that at the end of last month, we were asked by our counterparts in New York Child Protective Services to perform a ‘courtesy visit’ to interview the children based on an alleged incident that occurred in New York,” Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said in a statement Tuesday.

“Upon the request, and because the children were located in Connecticut at the time, we assisted New York CPS and reported back to our colleagues accordingly. There was nothing learned in the interviews which warranted further Connecticut DCF involvement.”

No details were given about the incident that sparked the initial child welfare intervention.

Police said driver Malik Smith, 16, and passengers Anthony Billips, 17, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross 11, and Andrew Billips, 8, were killed when Smith failed to negotiate a curve while traveling north along the parkway in Scarsdale.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said that instead of turning with the road as it curved to the left, the Nissan Rogue continued in a straight line, crashed into a boulder, hit a tree and burst into flames.

Latimer said the vehicle was rented by a relative.

“It remains under investigation as to how Malik Smith had access to it,” Latimer said.

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.

Dorantes declined through a spokesman to provide more details about the agency’s interaction with the family, pending the investigation.

“This is an unspeakable tragedy, and our thoughts are with the family, friends, neighbors and others within the community who knew these children and are now grieving their loss and the trauma they experienced,” Dorantes said in the statement. “We are currently reviewing our interactions with the involved families.”