Five family members die in SUV crash near Van Wyck

Loved ones comfort one another outside Jamaica Hospital. Photo by Christina Santucci
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An SUV packed with family members on their way home from a Nigerian benefit early Sunday morning flipped over in Jamaica, killing five passengers and leaving three others in stable condition, police and family members said.

The black Mercedes Benz SUV was traveling east on Atlantic Avenue around 3:18 a.m. when, after crossing over the Van Wyck Expressway, it slammed into one of the concrete columns supporting the AirTrain track overhead. The SUV flipped over and slid to a halt near a Long Island Rail Road employee parking lot and went up in flames, according to the NYPD.

None of the vehicle’s occupants had been identified.

The Benz’s driver, a 45-year old woman, was taken to Jamaica Hospital and listed in stable condition, as were two male passengers — one 7 and one 26, the police said.

Two children — one 8-year old girl and a 9-year old boy — and three adult female passengers, whose ages had not been released, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, police said.

Victor Lopez was asleep at a friend’s house nearby when he was awakened by the sound of a loud crash and went outside to see what had happened.

“There were bodies all over the place in different positions,” he said. “They were thrown out of the car.”

Lopez said only the vehicle’s driver was wearing her seat belt and still in the SUV when police and firefighters responded. The others were thrown from the vehicle as it landed on the driver’s side.

“There was one body here, one there, one there,” he said later in the day. “Man, there was a lot of blood.”

Atlantic Avenue curves south as it approaches the expressway overpass. The roadway dips down and then curves back north just at the point where the AirTrain column rests a few feet from the street.

A couple of Long Island Rail Road employees said the intersection can be dangerous, and cars trying to beat a yellow light can become airborne because of the dip.

Friends and relatives at Jamaica Hospital later in the day said the family was traveling home from a conference in the borough to benefit the Nigerian town of Arondizuogu.

Larry Alisa, a conference member who traveled to Queens from Connecticut, said some of the car’s occupants were from New York, others were from out of state.

“Everyone in the car was related one way or another,” he said. “We are trying to find out exactly what happened.”

“Right now it’s still kind of sketchy,” he added.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:14 pm, July 22, 2012
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