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New York City van crash: Bronx River Parkway crash kills seven

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(Photo: Associated Press)

NEW YORK (AP) - A day after three generations of a Bronx family died in a horrifying crash that sent their SUV plunging off a highway into a ravine, a grieving husband said Monday he was so shocked he could barely think - or even feel.

Juan Ramon Rosario, whose wife Maria Nunez and two children died, was on his way to a funeral home when he made comments outside his sister-in-law's house.

"It's terrible for him and the whole family," said Andres Fulgencio, a cousin who was translating for the 34-year-old father of two, who speaks Spanish.

"Right now he can't think. He can't feel," Fulgencio said. "His feelings are deep inside."

Rosario's family died Sunday afternoon when the 2004 Honda Pilot was headed south on the Bronx River Parkway. The vehicle hit a meridian on an overpass, bouncing across all the lanes and plunging first across a low concrete barrier then over a guardrail 59 feet down into the ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, police said.

All seven passengers were killed, including three children.

Authorities are trying to determine what caused the accident that killed Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, both from the Dominican Republic, their daughters, Maria Gonzalez, 45, and Maria Nunez, 39, and three grandchildren. Police say Gonzalez was driving, and all the victims were wearing seat belts.

The children were identified as Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10, the daughter of the driver, Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3, both daughters of Nunez.

"The only way they can get through this is by leaning on each other," Isabelle Morel, a cousin of two of the women who died in the crash, said Monday, also speaking in Spanish through a translator.

"This was supposed to be a time of great happiness," she added, speaking of the accident that turned a sunny Sunday afternoon into tragedy.

Relatives said the grandparents had arrived from the Dominican Republic three days earlier. They had 13 children, six of whom live in the United States. They were headed to a family party when the accident occurred; the van had just picked up the grandparents to take them from one home to another for the festivities.

"Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific and this is one of them," FDNY deputy Chief Ronald Werner said shortly after the crash.

Rosario was working at a car wash when he heard of the accident.

On Monday, relatives and friends gathered in front of Maria Gonzalez's home, a two-story white clapboard house in a middle-class neighborhood of the South Bronx.

Two flower bouquets and seven tall religious candles lined the sidewalk near the stoop of the house. Photographs of three young girls sat behind a grate of a windowsill, one in pink overalls and white blouse, the other sporting a pixie haircut.

The grandparents are being flown to the Dominican Republic for their funeral, and the other victims were being prepared for funerals from the Ortiz Funeral Home in the Bronx.

The family has opened a bank account and is asking for donations because the cost of burying everyone at once is more than they can afford. A viewing was scheduled for Thursday.

The accident was the second in the past year where a car fell off the same stretch of the Bronx River Parkway.

Werner said the crash scene, less than five miles from Gonzalez's home, was difficult to see, with contents of the van, including a pink schoolbag, strewn about.

"When you see young kids that have been hurt or injured or lose their life, it's always harder than if you find someone that's an elder age," Werner said. "It affects all our units."

The cause of the crash, at about 12:30 p.m., was unclear, and police haven't yet said how fast the SUV was traveling. A city official said the height of the guardrail would be one of the safety issues investigated.

"Obviously, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed," Werner said. "It hit something that caused it to become airborne."

Maria Gonzalez, the driver, worked at nearby Fordham University in maintenance.

"I don't want to live any more. I want to die," her husband, Juan Gonzalez, said Monday.

The SUV landed in a wooded area on the edge of zoo property that's closed to the public and far from any animal exhibits, zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon said. The vehicle lay mangled hours later, its right doors ripped off and strewn amid the trees along with items from the car. Next to the heavily wooded area are subway tracks and a train yard.

The medical examiner's office said it expected to release the victims' causes of death on Monday.

Last June, the driver of an SUV heading north lost control and the SUV hit a divider, bounced through two lanes of traffic and fell 20 feet over a guardrail, landing on a pickup truck in a parking lot. The two people in the SUV were injured.

The wreck was the deadliest in New York City since the driver of a tour bus returning from a Connecticut casino in March 2011 lost control and slammed into a pole that sheared the bus nearly end to end, killing 14 passengers.

In 2009, just north of New York City in suburban Westchester County, a woman carrying a vanload of children drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a highway before colliding with an SUV. Eight people were killed, including four children. An autopsy determined that the woman, Diane Schuler, had downed at least 10 drinks and had smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the wreck.

In 2009, just north of New York City in suburban Westchester County, a woman carrying a vanload of children drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a highway before colliding with an SUV.

Eight people were killed, including four children.

An autopsy determined that the woman, Diane Schuler, had downed at least 10 drinks and had smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the wreck.

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