Five unidentified people, including two children, believed to all be Nigerian, were killed in a car crash near the Van Wyck expressway in Queens, NY. According to the New York Times: Shortly before the accident, the driver and seven passengers had left a nearby banquet hall, where an association of Nigerian immigrants had gathered from across the United States for a celebration that featured dancing and discussions about improvement projects they were sponsoring in their homeland.
On Sunday morning, many of the same people were in mourning as they entered and left Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where the three survivors of the accident had been brought.
“Did God go to sleep on us?” a participant in Saturday night’s festivities, Inno Chima, said Sunday as he stood on the sidewalk outside the hospital.
As of late Sunday afternoon, the police had not released the identities of the victims, but among them were an 8-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. The accident occurred around 3:15 a.m., and the police believe the S.U.V. was speeding, the authorities said. Witnesses have told investigators that the vehicle ran two red lights shortly before the accident, which occurred on Atlantic Avenue just east of the Van Wyck. The vehicle struck a concrete support for the AirTrain to Kennedy International Airport, and flipped a number of times before coming to rest on the passenger side about 80 feet away, the authorities said. Then it ignited in flames.
Some of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a 26-year-old man, whom arriving rescue personnel found sitting on a curb, a spokesman for the Fire Department, Frank Dwyer, said in an e-mail. The driver, a 45-year-old woman who lives in the Bronx, was taken to Jamaica Hospital in critical condition. The third survivor is a 7-year-old boy who was in stable condition, the authorities said.
It did not initially appear that any of the vehicle’s eight occupants were wearing seat belts, a law enforcement official said, although a community leader, Don Akamnonu, said Sunday evening that the 26-year-old man said he was wearing one. The vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz GL-class S.U.V., is built with seats for seven.
During an interview outside the hospital, Mr. Chima said there was “casual drinking” at the Golden Terrace banquet hall, on Atlantic Avenue less than a mile from the accident site. But investigators do not believe that alcohol played a role in the accident, and emergency personnel did not detect the odor of alcohol at the crash scene, a law enforcement official said.
On Sunday, investigators visited the banquet hall, asking about the nature of the Saturday night gathering and the time it ended, a woman who answered the phone at the banquet hall said.
The celebration concluded a two-day annual convention of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union National Congress of North America, according to attendees.
“The convention was supposed to bring us together — not end in tragedy,” said Anthony Nwankwo, 49, from Houston. The convention draws about 200 people from across the United States. On the sidewalk outside Jamaica Hospital, a 68-year-old woman, Evelyn Anyaogu, from the Bronx, said she was a cousin of one of the people who died in the accident. Ms. Anyaogu identified her cousin as a Michigan woman, Nnenna Obioha, who was in her 50s or older.
“She has the best heart in the whole world,” Ms. Anyaogu said.Ms. Anyaogu recalled how festive the night had been at the convention. “We danced our native dance,” she said, adding that it was a “very, very good time.” But those memories quickly evaporated when Ms. Anyaogu received a call from the authorities to “tell me what happened.”
“How do you cope?” she added.
One mourner emerged from the hospital crying and chased several news photographers, threatening to hurt them.