Five children who died over the weekend in a gruesome car crash on Westchester Parkway, including the underage and unlicensed driver, were part of a family being investigated by the Connecticut child welfare agency, authorities said.
Investigators reconstructing the crash are still trying to figure out why six children, including a 9-year-old boy who survived, were in the rental SUV without adult supervision when the vehicle veered off a winding section of Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale la early Sunday morning and crashed into a large rock and a tree before bursting into flames.
Authorities said the victims, ages 8 to 17, were all related and were headed to Connecticut when the 16-year-old driver was distracted or fell asleep at the wheel around 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, authorities said.
Last month, child welfare agents met with family members, including several of the children involved in the accident, authorities said.
“We can confirm that late last month we were asked by our counterparts at Child Protective Services New York to conduct a ‘courtesy call’ to interview the children based on an alleged incident that occurred in New York,” it said. the Connecticut Department of State. Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes said in a statement Tuesday.
“Upon request, and because the children were located in Connecticut at the time, we assisted New York CPS and informed our colleagues accordingly. Nothing was learned from the interviews to justify further involvement of Connecticut DCF.”
No details were released about the incident that prompted 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, died when Smith failed to negotiate a curve while traveling north on the avenue in Scarsdale.
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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 rock, hit a tree and caught fire.
Latimer said the vehicle was rented by a relative.
“How Malik Smith got access to it remains under investigation,” Latimer 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.
Dorantes declined through a spokesperson to provide further 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 at the release. “We are currently reviewing our interactions with the families involved.”