DCF alerted to Derby kids weeks before fatal N.Y. crash, official says
Derby — The state Department of Children and Families was notified about a family that had recently moved to Connecticut weeks before five of their children were killed in a crash over the weekend in Westchester County, an official said.
Westchester County officials said Monday Derby residents Anthony Billips, Jr., 17, Malik Smith, 16, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross, 11, and Andrew Billips, 8, were killed in a crash early Sunday on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale, N.Y. A sixth child, Abraham Billips, 9, also of Derby, survived by crawling out of the shattered back window, officials said. The family has said all of the children are related.
DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said the agency interviewed the Cross and Billups children who died in the crash in late February at the request of New York City’s Child Protective Services.
“We can confirm that at the end of last month, we were asked by our counterparts in New York Child Protective Services to perform a ‘courtesy visit’ to interview the children based on an alleged incident that occurred in New York,” Dorantes said in a statement Tuesday. “Upon the request, and because the children were located in Connecticut at the time, we assisted New York CPS and reported back to our colleagues accordingly. There was nothing learned in the interviews which warranted further Connecticut DCF involvement.”
It was not immediately clear Tuesday why the family was involved with Child Protective Services.
Dorantes noted that her agency is reviewing its interactions with the families, but declined to comment further due to the “pending investigation into this incident.”
“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,” she added.
Officials have said the children were not yet enrolled in Derby schools, while Smith was enrolled in a high school in Brooklyn, where a vigil was held Monday night.
A New York City Public Schools spokesperson said they could not provide any information about whether the children were enrolled in the district.
The Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said she is investigating the circumstances of the crash and whether the family had dealings with local or state public agencies.
“The crash raises a lot of questions as to how the children wound up in the situation they were in,” said Eagan, who as the state’s Child Advocate is required to review the unexpected deaths of children living in Connecticut who were receiving local or state services.
During a news conference on Monday, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said Smith did not have a learner’s permit or driver’s license when he was operating the 2021 Nissan Rogue that crashed into a boulder and a tree before bursting into flames around 12:20 a.m. Sunday. Latimer said Smith either fell asleep or was distracted before the crash occurred. He said speed does not appear to be a factor.
He said the SUV was rented out to relatives, but it was not clear how the teen was given access to the vehicle, Latimer said.