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SUV plunges into Bronx Zoo property; 7 in one family killed

April 30, 2012|By Tina Susman

Seven members of a single family, including grandparents visiting from Dominican Republic and their 3-year-old granddaughter, were killed when the SUV in which they were riding skidded across three lanes of traffic and plunged off a highway nearly 60 feet into Bronx Zoo property.

Sunday's fatal crash was the second time in a year that a vehicle has tumbled over the Bronx River Parkway guardrails, which are about 4 feet high. The Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., planned to meet with transit officials Monday, and said he would raise the issue of the height of the parkway's guardrails, at least in some sections.

"It really is not as tall as many of the [vehicle] doors here," Diaz told television station NY1 on Monday. "So it's time at least in this portion of the parkway where it's elevated ... to call for higher railings. If not, this is going to happen again."

Police said 45-year-old Maria Gonzalez was driving a 2004 Honda Pilot southbound on the parkway in New York City at about 12:30 p.m. when she lost control of the vehicle. Gonzalez, who was in the left lane, first hit the center median, then veered across the three southbound lanes, hit the curb, and bounced over the guardrail, police said. The vehicle landed upside down in a wooded, non-public area of the Bronx Zoo, away from animals and people. Nobody on the ground was injured.

In addition to Gonzalez, those killed were her parents, Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, who were visiting from Dominican Republic; her sister, Maria Nunez, 39; Gonzalez's daughter, Jocelyn, 10; and her sister's two daughters, Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3. Police said the vehicle was traveling at about 70 mph when it crashed and that all the victims were wearing seat belts.

"Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific, and this is one of them," Ronald Werner, the deputy chief of the New York Fire Department, told reporters at the scene shortly after the crash. Werner said it did not appear that any other vehicles were involved in the crash, which left skid marks across the heavily traveled road and littered the ground beneath the parkway with shoes, handbags, CDs and other personal belongings.

Gonzalez's husband, Juan, called a local store with news of the accident, and word quickly spread in the couple's Bronx neighborhood, where friends arrived throughout the evening Sunday and again Monday to offer condolences. "She was a good mother ... a very good mother,” Juan Gonzalez said as he cried and a police chaplain held his shoulder, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported. 

Last June, a vehicle tumbled over a guardrail on the parkway, but the two occupants survived. That car fell about 20 feet, from a stretch of the roadway that was not as highly elevated as the section in which Gonzalez was driving.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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