An out-of-control car jumped a curb and slammed into a group of Halloween trick-or-treaters in the Bronx on Saturday night, killing three people, badly injuring several others and turning a festive evening into a nightmarish scene.
Two victims — identified as 65-year-old Louis Perez and 24-year-old Kristian Leka — were credited with saving relatives by pushing them out of the way moments before the vehicle hit. Also killed in the crash was Perez’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Nyanna Aquil, according to the New York Post.
“I saw a torso on the sidewalk. I didn’t know if it was a Halloween dummy or a real person,” neighbor Fabio Cotza told the New York Post. “I just grabbed a whole bunch of towels and ran outside.”
Three dead, four hurt after car hits trick-or-treaters in New York City https://t.co/gyXm9r5ZfQ
— NBC Chicago (@nbcchicago) November 1, 2015
Police said a 3-year-old girl was critically injured and transported to a local hospital. Two others — a 21-year-old woman and a 9-year-old girl — also were hospitalized with injuries not thought to be life-threatening, according to the AP.
The incident is the second time in a week that a driver has slammed into a large crowd of people, leaving a trail of carnage and mayhem behind. On Oct. 24, an allegedly suicidal Adacia Chambers killed four people and injured 47 when she rammed her car into a crowd celebrating the Oklahoma State homecoming parade.
The crash in the Bronx also occurred without warning, giving victims almost no time to react.
It occurred around 5 p.m. on a quiet residential street packed with costumed children and their family members, according to the AP. The speeding, black Dodge Charger appeared suddenly before veering into a large group of revelers, leaving mangled bodies and bloodied costumes strewn across the street. The vehicle came to a stop after going airborne and smashing into a brick wall in front of a nearby home, according to the AP.
Before the crash, police said, the driver had crossed over a double yellow line in the road and rammed into the back of another vehicle, according to the AP.
“There was a family of kids trick-or-treating, walking behind me,” Kristina DeJesus told ABC affiliate WABC-TV. “All of a sudden … I heard the boom, and the car like literally jumped over a parked car and flew into the gate, hitting a bunch of people.”
One moment the street was calm, witnesses said, and the next it was a scene of horror.
“The guy in front of my feet, his body was torn in half. He was dead already,” Kristina DeJesus, a hospital administrative assistant told the New York Daily News. “There was a young girl on the side of the car. She was like, ‘Can somebody help me?’ I was screaming at her, ‘Whatever you do, don’t move!’
She added: “I had no time to cry … to react. My body went into help mode.”
Police suspect the driver — identified as 57-year-old Howard Unger — lost control of his vehicle because of a medical issue, according to the New York Post. He was transported to a local hospital, according to the AP, and no charges have been filed.
Police said Perez — a retired Army veteran who received a Purple Heart in Vietnam — suffered severe head trauma and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Daily News.
“He was the greatest grandfather in the world,” his wife, Miriam Perez, told the Daily News. “He picked up his granddaughters every day from school, he fed them and took care of them. He was so loved by them. They adored him. He will be sorely missed.”
His 10-year-old granddaughter, Nyanna Aquil, still in her cat costume, died after being rushed to the hospital with head trauma and internal bleeding, her mother, Natalia Perez, told the paper.
Another one of Perez’s granddaughters, an 8-year-old, told relatives that she survived the crash because of her grandfather’s final act of courage.
“She says that her grandfather saved her, he pushed her out of the way,” Perez, 37, told the Daily News.
“He died trying to save his granddaughters,” Miriam Perez noted. “He was a hero then and a hero now.”
Also credited with saving a relative’s life was Leka, who was accompanying his 10-year-old sister while she trick-or-treated when the crash occurred.
“The car came up very fast and he pushed her out of the way,” Leka’s uncle Lulsh Kanaj, 64, told the Daily News.
“He saved her,” he added. “The car hit him and he went into the wall. His head was crushed. I don’t know what caused the driver to do this.”
Within hours of the crash, neighbors had set up candlelight vigil to memorialize the victims, according to the AP.
“This is a sad situation, especially today. It’s Halloween,” Anna Crecco told the AP. “It’s going to affect a lot. Something like this has never happened here. Everyone’s going to remember when they pass by.”