A Connecticut family is grieving the deaths of five children who died in a car crash in Scarsdale, New York.
Authorities say the young driver was driving without a license and lost control of the vehicle, killing himself and four of his cousins and siblings
One 9-year-old survived, crawling out of the car’s rear hatch just as it burst into flames.
Malik Smith Jr., the 16-year-old driver, did not have a driver’s license or learner’s permit when he crashed a rented 2021 Nissan Rogue on Hutchinson River Parkway in Westchester County on the morning of Sunday, March 19.
Riding in the car with Smith Jr. were 17-year-old Anthony Billips Jr.; Zahnyiah Cross, a 12-year-old girl; Shawnell Cross, an 11-year-old girl; Abraham Billips, a 9-year-old; and Andrew Billips, an 8-year-old boy, according to NBC Connecticut
“I told him. His mother told him. His older brothers told him stop driving without a license or without a permit. Anything can happen. You can get pulled over. You can get in trouble for these things. Stop doing this,” Malik Smith Sr. said.
In addition to not being authorized to drive, Smith Jr. violated Connecticut and New York driving laws prohibiting underage drivers from driving without an adult between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“It’s not to get these children into trouble or find anything wrong with them. It’s safety,” said Sgt. Christine Jeltema of the Connecticut State Police, according to FOX 61. “We want to make sure they can go places and get those driving habits as they get older and more experienced.”
Despite that, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “We’re less concerned at this point about who to blame than to understand exactly what happened.”
Westchester County officials said a preliminary investigation did reveal that speed was not a factor and the cause of death, as of now, has been determined to be blunt force trauma from injuries sustained in the impact.
Local politicians from both states are addressing the crash — and the loss of young life with care.
“These are individuals who had their whole life ahead of them. There are so many things that have been denied to them. The opportunity to grow up and live a full life,” said Latimer.
Officials gently spoke about the ordeal, noting what promise the young people’s lives had and the great mourning the community is experiencing.
A lot of the focus, Latimer said, should be centered on supporting Abraham Billips, the sole survivor. The elementary student shattered the back window and escaped through the glass.
“He’s just seen five members of his family die. This has got to be an impossible situation for him as a young boy,” the executive said.
While the accident happened in New York, the young people were actually living in Derby, Connecticut. Reports say the family had recently moved to the city, and local politicians there are mourning with the family and are encouraging neighbors to do the same thing.
“I think it’s a lot for people to process. Very tragic and very sad. These things happen in the blink of an eye,” Derby City Clerk Mark Garofolo stated.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes also released a statement saying, “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.”
Over the last month, DCF has been working with New York’s Child Protective Services to execute a “courtesy visit” to speak with the same children in the car based on a different incident the agency was made aware of in New York. CPS discovered nothing during these interviews.
The families have set up a GoFundMe to support them as they prepare to bury all minors.
De’Shawna Cross, one of the parents, wrote on the crowdfunding platform, “We as parents lost 5 of our children in a very tragic accident and need help deeply with giving them a great homegoing service.”
“Please anything will help we just want to put our babies to rest,” she petitioned, setting the fundraising goal to $50,000. Within two days, the pot has risen to over $60,000.
The family hopes Smith Jr. is remembered for more than his final joyride.
The Brooklyn high school student is described as an outstanding young person with a love for playing basketball, according to CBS News.
His dad said, “Playing basketball. Active athlete. He was a kid. Just wanted to play the game and just be outside. Good grades, everything.”