A Connecticut family is experiencing the unthinkable after five young siblings and cousins died in a car crash over the weekend.
The victims, ages 8 to 17, were killed Sunday when the SUV they were traveling in veered off a New York highway and hit a tree, police in Westchester County, New York, said in a statement on Facebook.
Police confirmed to HuffPost on Monday that the victims were Malik Smith, 16; Anthony Billips Jr., 17; Zahnyiah Cross, 12; Shawnell Cross, 11; Andrew Billips, 8.
Malik was believed to be driving a Nissan Rogue when it crashed on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale at about 12:20 a.m. local time. The SUV caught fire after it hit a tree and no other vehicles were involved, police say.
The sole survivor, a 9-year-old boy whom police have not yet identified, was apparently riding in the SUV’s hatchback area and escaped out the rear. The boy was taken by ambulance to Westchester Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, police say.
The family told CBS New York that the victims were all siblings and cousins who were very “close,” and were driving to Derby, Connecticut, from a mall at the time of the accident.
Malik lived in East New York, Brooklyn, while the rest of the victims lived in Derby.
Malik Smith, the 16-year-old driver’s father who shares the same name as his deceased son, told the outlet that the young family members often spent their weekends together at the mall.
“That’s [Malik’s] thing. He goes to the mall. He goes to get his ice cream with his cousin. They go to the movies. They walk around the mall. They do what teenagers and kids do, you know. So that’s, it’s just, I didn’t know he was driving by himself,” Smith said.
Police say the crash remains under investigation, but Smith told CBS New York that his son did not have a driver’s license or a learner’s permit, and was told repeatedly not to get behind the wheel of a car.
“I told him, his mother told him, his older brothers told him, stop driving without a license, without a permit. Anything happens, you get pulled over, you get in trouble for these things. Stop doing this,” Smith said.
Family also told local news channel WABC on Monday that according to the preliminary information they were given, they believe Malik may have fallen asleep while driving.
Matt Conway, the superintendent of schools in Derby, told The Associated Press that he has reached out to the family to offer support.
“It’s the 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.