A family's minivan going in the wrong direction crashed into two cars on a suburban parkway on Sunday, killing eight people, including four young cousins and the mother of one of them.
State police Investigator Joseph Becerra said the minivan was traveling southbound in the northbound lanes of the Taconic State Parkway in Westchester County, just north of New York City, when it struck an SUV and then careened into a third vehicle. The minivan rolled down an embankment, where it burst into flames.
The minivan's front end appeared to have been almost entirely smashed in, and its shell was scorched and bent. At least one wheel was blown out.
The woman driving the minivan and four of the five children inside it were killed, Becerra said. They were part of a family from Floral Park and West Babylon, on Long Island.
The children who died were girls ages 2, 5, 7 and 9. The fifth child, a boy, age 5, was hospitalized.
The minivan's driver was the mother of the surviving child, and the other children were her nieces and her daughter, Becerra said.
Hawthorne fire Chief Joe LaGrippo, among the first people to arrive at the scene, said the boy suffered significant head trauma.
LaGrippo said that when he got there the minivan was engulfed in flames. He said one of the children was dead, and three others were near death.
"We go out quite frequently, but thank God we've never seen anything of this magnitude," LaGrippo said. "You just don't get used to these kinds of calls."
Three men from Yonkers in the SUV were killed, Becerra said. Two people in the third vehicle were hospitalized.
The parkway, which stretches about 100 miles from Valhalla, in Westchester County, to East Chatham, in Columbia County, was closed to traffic in both directions in the area for hours following the afternoon crash.
It was the second wrong-way crash on the parkway on Sunday. Five people were injured in an early morning collision between two vehicles, one of which was headed northbound in the southbound lanes. That accident occurred about 20 miles north of the later incident.
The scenic Taconic State Parkway was built over a number of years in stages beginning in the early 1920s, initially as an extension of the Bronx Parkway from New York City to Bear Mountain Bridge.