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7 killed as van plunges off highway into Bronx Zoo

Keith Bedford/Reuters

The van went out of control on the Bronx River Parkway, going over the side and falling more than 50 feet onto zoo property that is closed to the public and far from any animal exhibits.

NEW YORK - Seven people were killed on Sunday after a minivan that they were in lost control and fell several dozen feet from a Bronx River Parkway overpass, coming to rest in an area of the Bronx Zoo, law enforcement officials said.

Three of the victims in the one-vehicle accident were children, said a spokesman for the fire department, Jim Long. All of the dead were in the minivan; the police said they were from one Bronx family.

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The accident occurred around 12:30 p.m. on the southbound lanes of the parkway, just north of East 180th Street. A police spokesman said the minivan was heading south in the passing lane when it lost control and struck the median; witnesses told the police that it appeared that a tire had blown.

Accident investigators estimated that the van, driven by a 45-year-old woman, was traveling at around 70 miles per hour, said a law enforcement official. There did not appear to be any signs of skid marks prior to the moment when the car initially hit the barrier before it veered toward the guardrail on the right, the official said. But there was a trail of skid marks that cut straight across three southbound lanes, leading to a guardrail that separated the parkway from the ground and streets below.

The guardrail had no scars from the minivan, since there was no impact; police investigators said the vehicle hit a curb that propelled it directly over the guardrail and into a wooded area, landing upside-down.

“Sometimes you come upon events that are horrific and this is one of them,’’ Deputy Chief Ronald Werner, of Division 7, said at a news conference less than three hours after the accident.

The victims included two grandparents, an 85-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife; their two daughters, 45 and 39; and three grandchildren, ages 10, 7, and 3, the police said.

An official with the Bronx Zoo said the van landed within the zoo’s southeast boundary, away from any exhibits. Much of the zoo’s 265 acres are wooded and not in use.

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