In Derby, Connecticut’s smallest city, with its mix of metropolitan bustle and quiet suburban charm, the Derby Mini Market on Anson Street is one of the closest things to a New York City bodega.
It was one of two places the Cross and Billips family liked to go to buy milk and bread, or drinks and snacks for their restless children. the movement of brooklyn It had taken me a while to get used to, and a convenience store that felt like something from the old neighborhood probably helped a bit.
But on this day, the day after five children in his family were killed in a horrific car accident on Hutchinson River Parkway, the little market offered a brief oasis from unthinkable grief and pain, a place to buy convenient food, and some drinks to wash it down.
“I saw the mother on Monday,” a store clerk said. “She was so sad. She came here and bought things from the freezer, because she said that she couldn’t even cook that day. She came with the little boy. He had a bandage on his head. He was very quiet.”
The little boy was 9-year-old Abraham Billips, who, in the early morning of March 19, got out of a crushed and burning car where everyone died but
Police said Abraham was in the rear cargo area of a small SUV that had veered off Hutchinson River Parkway in Westchester before hitting a rock and tree and bursting into flames.
Behind the wheel was Abraham’s cousin, 16-year-old Malik Smith, who did not have a driver’s license or learner’s permit. There were no adults in the car. Authorities said he was unable to negotiate a turn and veered off the road near an exit in Scarsdale.
“I asked him, ‘What happened?’” the store clerk said. “You know, ‘What happened?’
And the little one says: ‘I think he fell asleep’”.
“I don’t ask for more because she felt very bad,” said the employee. She said that she felt as if she were in another world. She said that she felt that way. She didn’t want to cook and she didn’t want to do nothing.
The driver’s father told CBS News he knew his son was driving without even a learner’s permit. “I told him, his mother told him, his older brothers told him: Stop driving without a license, without a permit. Anything happens, they stop you, you get in trouble for these things. Stop doing this.”
Anthony Billips, father of the slain children, wrote what he called “the most painful post I’ve ever had to write,” saying his family had “lost our precious children in a fatal car accident.”
“The pain we feel cannot be put into words, and we don’t want this to happen to anyone in this world,” he wrote on Facebook.
Cops said the driver and passengers Anthony Billips, 17, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross, 11, and Andrew Billips, 8, were killed when Malik failed to negotiate a curve while traveling north on the avenue in Scarsdale.
Relatives said Malik still lived in East New York but spent much of his time with relatives in his new home in Derby, which seemed to be his destination before Malik became distracted or fell asleep at the wheel.
Sarita Vargas, owner of nearby Sarita’s Deli and Grocery on Hawkins St., said the family shopped there most days. She said the children bought popsicles, sundaes and small sodas from Kisko, and if one child didn’t have enough money, the others shared what they had.
“They supported each other,” said Vargas, 42. “They entered, ‘fix your backpack, help him, tie your shoe’, without fighting, without yelling at each other. Nothing of that. My son and I were amazed at these children when they came here. We think, ‘Where do they come from? These little kids sit there and they talk to you, they look into your eyes. These kids were so smart. They stuck together as a unit. They moved as a unit. They were friends with each other.”
Vargas said he had gotten to know all the victims, from the oldest child to the youngest.
They named Anthony, the 8-year-old boy, Peanut. She wasn’t sure why, but she thought the nickname was cute.
“He’s the one everyone was looking out for,” Vargas said. “Everyone stands here and waits for him to decide what he wants to get.”
She said everyone in the store thought Malik was the oldest because of “how he moved.” She said he was always in and out.
“I had that New York mentality,” he said.
But it was Anthony, the 17-year-old, who was really in charge, he said.
“The oldest, Anthony, was like the leader,” Vargas said. “As you know, he was the father. He made sure they were always good. Him and Zaniyah. They all loved each other.”
Vargas said he had long conversations with Anthony.
“He called me ‘Ma,” Vargas said. “He had already opened up to me, so he says to me, “You know what? I’m going to call you Ma from now on. Alright?’ I said ‘Yeah, okay.’”
She said they often talked about Anthony’s future.
“He had so many plans for his life,” Vargas said. “He wanted to go into truck driving. Back and forth to New York. His uncle was driving and said there was money in it.
Vargas said Anthony’s father worked hard to keep him out of trouble.
“His father spoke common sense to him,” he said. “He would tell me, ‘My dad and I had a good talk today.’ He told me these things. It’s like, I’m going to respect my dad and take his advice.
“His father used to tell him: ‘If you’re airheaded, you won’t make it. You are going to get into the same mess that they are getting into. His plan was to come back and live in New York because this life was so different for him. He knew that in New York there was work, there were jobs. Is big.”
When she met Anthony’s parents, she said she felt like she already knew them.
“Very respectful,” Vargas said. “So when I finally met them, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys have great kids. He smiled. The mother and father seemed perfectly fine. Normal people.”
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Still, investigators want to know who gave Malik the keys to the rental vehicle and the green light to drive it, authorities said. Authorities have not ruled out criminal charges against an adult if such charges are justified, they said.
Under New York State law, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from having more than one passenger unless the passengers are members of their immediate family or there is a passenger over the age of 21 in the vehicle.
In Connecticut, a 16-year-old is prohibited from driving with passengers under the age of 20 and non-family members. Drivers under the age of 18 are also not allowed to drive between the hours of 11 pm and 5 am, unless it is for work, school, religious or medical necessity.
Neighbors said they weren’t ready to point fingers at anyone. The wounds were still too fresh.
“That really confused me,” said Tanisha Crook, 49, a mother of four who lives close to the family. “I slept all day yesterday. I was literally exhausted. When it first happened, I prayed for the family. It really moved me. As a mother, not just one, but five. That’s a lot. It’s crazy.”
She said her heart aches for the surviving child.
“He’s an angel,” Crook said. “He needs love. He needs all the love he can get. And help. For the days to come it will not be easy”.