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Image 3 of The State Journal April 30, 2012

Part of The State Journal

Nation&World PAG E A 3 T H E S TAT E J O U R N A L A P R I L 3 0 , 2 012 3 generations perish in horrifying plunge Officials investigating what caused SUV to drive off a New York highway overpass BY VERENA DOBNIK ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW YORK (AP) – Three generations of a family died in a horrifying crash just a few miles from home when the SUV they were traveling in plunged more than 50 feet off a highway overpass and into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, killing all seven aboard, including three children. “Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific and this is one of them,” FDNY deputy Chief Ronald Werner said shortly after the crash. Authorities were trying to determine what caused Sunday’s accident that killed Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, both from the Dominican Republic, their daughters, Maria Gonzalez, 45, and Maria Nunez, 39, and three grandchildren. Police say Gonzalez was driving, and all the victims were wearing seat belts. The children were identified as Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10, the daughter of the driver, Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3, both daughters of Nunez. “They were a good, wholesome family,” a Bronx neighbor, Felicia Lee, 29, told the Daily News. “The mother always kept an eye on her children. They were typical little girls. They were gorgeous. They were so pretty,” Lee said. The accident was the second in the past year where a car fell off the same stretch of the Bronx River Parkway. Werner said the crash scene, less than five miles from Gonzalez’s Bronx home, was difficult to see, with con- AP/LOUIS LANZANO Police investigate the destroyed van that plunged over the Bronx River Parkway Sunday in New York. Authorities say the out-of-control van plunged off a roadway near the Bronx Zoo, killing seven people, including three children. tents of the van, including a pink schoolbag, strewn about. “When you see young kids that have been hurt or injured or lose their life, it’s always harder than if you find someone that’s an elder age,” Werner said. “It affects all our units.” The 2004 Honda Pilot was headed south on the Bronx River Parkway when it bounced off the median, crossed three southbound lanes and hit the curb, causing the vehicle to become airborne, continue over the guardrail and plunge 59 feet, police said. The cause of the crash, which happened around 12:30 p.m., was unclear, and police haven’t yet said how fast the SUV was traveling. A city official said the guardrail’s height would be one of the safety issues investigated. “Obviously, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed,” Werner said. “It hit something that caused it to become airborne.” Werner said that it doesn’t appear that any other vehicles were involved. Relatives said the grandparents had arrived from the Dominican Republic three days earlier. They had 13 children, six of whom live in the United States. They were headed to a family party when the accident oc- curred. Maria Gonzalez, the driver, worked at Fodham University in maintenance. “I don’t want to live any more. I want to die,” said her husband, Juan Gonzalez The SUV landed in a wooded area on the edge of zoo property that’s closed to the public and far from any animal exhibits, zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon said. The vehicle lay mangled hours later, its right doors ripped off and strewn amid the trees along with items from the car. Next to the heavily wooded area are subway tracks and a train yard. The medical examiner’s office said it expected to release the victims’ causes of death on Monday. Last June, the driver of an SUV heading north lost control and the SUV hit a divider, bounced through two lanes of traffic and fell 20 feet over a guardrail, landing on a pickup truck in a parking lot. The two people in the SUV were injured. City agencies will be asked to look at safety issues on the highway including guardrail height, Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement Sunday. “My prayers, as well as those of my office and all Bronxites, go out to the families of the seven victims,” he said. The wreck was the deadliest in New York City since the driver of a tour bus returning from a Connecticut casino in March 2011 lost control and slammed into a pole that sheared the bus nearly end to end, killing 14 passengers. In 2009, just north of New York City in suburban Westchester County, a woman carrying a vanload of children drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a highway before colliding with an SUV. Eight people were killed, including four children. An autopsy determined that the woman, Diane Schuler, had downed at least 10 drinks and had smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the wreck. Rights group: U.S. asylum likely for China dissident BY ALEXA OLESEN ASSOCIATED PRESS BEIJING (AP) – U.S. and Chinese officials are ironing out a deal to secure American asylum for a blind Chinese legal activist who fled house arrest, with an agreement likely before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives this week, a U.S. rights campaigner said today. Bob Fu of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid said that China and the U.S. want to reach agreement on the fate of Chen Guangcheng before the annual high-level talks with Clinton and other U.S. officials begin in Beijing on Thursday. “The Chinese top leaders are deliberating a decision to be made very soon, maybe in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Fu said, citing a source close to the U.S. and Chinese governments. Both sides are “eager to solve this issue,” said Fu, a former teacher at a Communist Party academy in Beijing whose advocacy group focuses on the rights of Christians in China and who maintains a network of contacts in the country. “It really depends on China’s willingness to facilitate Chen’s exit,” Fu said. Chen, a well-known dissident who angered authorities in rural China by exposing forced abortions, made a surprise escape from house arrest a week ago into what activists say is the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing, posing a delicate diplomatic crisis for both governments. The U.S. Embassy declined comment Monday either on Chen’s situation or talks involving Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. Both want the annual talks, known as the strategic and economic dialogue, to provide ballast to a relationship that is often rocky and to provide ways of working out disputes on trade, Taiwan, Syria, Iran and North Korea. In a video made after Chen escaped from his village and released last Friday, the activist made no mention of wanting to go abroad. Instead he beseeched Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate the beatings, harassment and other mistreatment he, his wife and daughter suffered at the hands of local officials during 20 months of house arrest. If Chen were willing to leave China, Washington could ill afford to turn him away. Clinton and other senior officials have repeatedly raised his case in meetings with Chinese officials. President Barack Obama is already under fire from Republicans over a case in which an aide to a senior Chinese leader entered the U.S. Consulate in Chendgu but then left, turning himself over to Chinese investigators. The European Union has also repeatedly raised Chen’s case and its office in Beijing issued a statement today calling for China to extend legal protections to him, his family and supporters. “We call on the Chinese authorities to exercise utmost restraint in dealing with the matter, including avoiding harassment of his family members or any person associated with him,” the statement said. For Beijing, the issue is sensitive because Chen enjoys broad sympathy among the Chinese public for persevering in his activism despite being blind and despite repeated reprisals from local officials. And though Beijing dislikes bargaining with Washington over human rights, allowing Chen $ $ to go abroad would remove an irritant in relations with Washington. It would also prevent him from becoming a bargaining chip in an already bumpy transition of power under way from President Hu Jintao’s administration to a younger group of leaders. Fu, who has been a point of contact for people helping Chen, said he offered to help the dissident leave China through “a sort of underground railroad” shortly after he made a daring night- time escape from his heavily guarded farmhouse on April 22. Fu had made such arrangements previously, helping the wife and two young children of another dissident lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, flee to the U.S. after they’d exited China overland from Beijing to Thailand. But Fu said that Chen refused the offer and chose instead to go to Beijing. 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