Albany Times Union

Officials: Teen driver in fatal crash unlicensed

- By Phillip Pantuso

WHITE PLAINS — Westcheste­r County officials have released more details about the car crash that killed five children Sunday morning on the Hutchinson River Parkway — including the names of the deceased and that the 16-year-old driver did not have a license or permit.

Describing the accident as “horrific” in a Monday afternoon news conference, Westcheste­r County Executive George Latimer identified the children as Malik Smith, 16, Anthony Billips, 17, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross, 11 and Andrew Billips, 8. They were siblings and cousins who were heading home to Derby, Conn., when the vehicle veered off the road in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Latimer said that evidence on the scene suggested that Smith, the driver, was either distracted or fell asleep. There were no tire marks or furrowing on the roadside to indicate braking, and an incident reconstruc­tion suggested that the car did not follow a curve in the road but continued in a straight line, colliding with a boulder and then slamming into a tree before bursting into flames.

The crash occurred around 12:20 a.m. No other vehicles were involved, and authoritie­s believe speed was not a factor in the accident. Toxicology reports on the driver are pending.

A 9-year-old boy, the lone survivor, was riding in the back of the SUV. He escaped out a rear window and was taken to Westcheste­r Medical Center with injuries that were not life-threatenin­g, according to Terrance Raynor, acting commission­er for the county Department of Public Safety.

Autopsy reports for the other five children list “blunt force trauma” as the cause of death, according to Westcheste­r County officials.

At the Monday news conference, Latimer said that Smith, the driver, did not have a license or a permit. It was not yet clear how he gained access to the Nissan SUV, which had been rented by a relative, Latimer said.

Under New York state law, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from driving between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. or with more than one passenger, unless the passengers are members of their immediate family or there is a passenger older than 21 in the vehicle.

An investigat­ion by the Westcheste­r County Police Accident Investigat­ion Team and detectives from the General Investigat­ions Unit is underway to determine more details about the crash, including whether it was preventabl­e in any way and if road safety measures should be implemente­d.

Latimer noted that the Hutchinson River Parkway is an old two-lane highway with minimal shoulder space and many curves. There are no guardrails on the outside of the highway where the crash occurred, but there are rails separating the northbound and southbound lanes.

The Hutchinson River Parkway is owned and operated by the state, Latimer said, which means any safety recommenda­tions that result from the investigat­ion would have to be passed to the state Department of Transporta­tion.

The Cross family has started a Gofundme campaign to help pay for funeral expenses.

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