An out-of-control van careered across several lanes of traffic on a highway overpass Sunday, then plunged more than 50 feet off the side of the road and landed in a ravine on the grounds of the nation's largest city zoo, killing all seven people aboard, including three children, authorities said.
The van apparently flipped over a 4-foot-high iron fence before landing upside-down on the Bronx Zoo property. The cause of the crash was unclear, and police said they didn't yet know how fast the van was traveling. A city official said the guardrail's height would be one of the safety issues investigated.
Police identified the dead adults as 85-year-old Jacob Nunez and 81-year-old Ana Julia Martinez, both from the Dominican Republic, 45-year-old Maria Gonzalez, and 39-year-old Maria Nunez. Police say Gonzalez was driving.
The children were identified as 10-year-old Jocelyn Gonzalez, 7-year-old Niely Rosario and 3-year-old Marly Rosario.
The relationship between the victims was not immediately clear.
The van was headed south on the highway that cuts through a working-class neighborhood when it bounced off the median, crossed all southbound lanes and hit the guardrail, police said.
The van 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.
It's not clear what caused the van to go out of control. The southbound side of the highway was closed briefly Sunday afternoon while police investigated but it was later reopened.
The Medical Examiner's Office said it expected to release the victims' causes of death today.
The accident was the second in the past year where a car fell off the same stretch of the Bronx River Parkway. 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.