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More details emerge about fatal crash that killed 5 Connecticut children

Westchester County Executive George Latimer meets with the press Monday, March 20, 2023, with Terrance Raynor, Acting Commissioner of Public Safety,
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Westchester County Executive George Latimer meets with reporters Monday, March 20, 2023, with Terrance Raynor, commissioner of public safety.

Five children from Connecticut, ranging in age from 8 to 17, were killed in a fiery crash early Sunday morning on a New York highway, police said.

The deceased were identified Monday as Malik Smith, 16; Anthony Billips Jr., 17; Zahnyiah Cross, 12; Shawnell Cross, 11; and Andrew Billips, 8, according to the Westchester County government.

Smith was driving the vehicle when it veered off the Hutchinson River Parkway early Sunday in Scarsdale, hit a tree and a boulder, then caught fire. Police said the accident happened around 12:20 a.m.

“The crash cost the lives of five young people. And that is a tragedy no matter what the details are,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said during a Monday afternoon news conference. "It was a horrific accident site.”

A 9-year-old boy, Abraham Billips, the sixth person in the Nissan Rogue, was the only survivor. The boy was riding in the rear hatchback/cargo area and escaped out the rear. He was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

New details emerge about the crash

Latimer said the driver of the car should not have been behind the wheel.

“The driver, Malik Smith, did not have a Connecticut nor a New York driver's license or a permit,” Latimer said. “If he did have a driver's permit, he would not be able to drive legally at night and he would also have to have had an adult in the car with him.”

The vehicle was rented by a relative and “it remains under investigation how Malik Smith had access to it … we do not believe speed was a factor,” Latimer said. Police reported that the car was going the speed limit of 55 mph.

County Public Safety Commissioner Terrance Raynor said the investigation is not “criminal in nature.”

“As you can imagine, this family is very distraught over the incident, and we have had some conversations. However, there’s a lot of follow-up conversations to be had with the family. So at this point, I can say that they’ve been cooperative with respect to the questions we’ve asked. However, there is a lot more to go into this investigation,” Raynor said.

The five children who were killed recently moved from New York to Derby, Conn., which is roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Scarsdale.

“The young people had not yet enrolled in Derby schools,” Latimer said.

Matt Conway, the superintendent of schools in Derby, said he learned the children were part of a family that recently moved to the New Haven County community from New York but had not enrolled in the school district. Conway said he reached out to the father on Sunday and offered to provide him information about available support in the community for him and his family. He planned to talk with the father again on Monday.

“It’s unimaginable. Having to now make arrangements for five of your children to be buried is a very difficult thing for anyone — one child, never mind five that you’re going to have to now make arrangements for,” Conway said.

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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