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Bronx River Parkway Crash Victims Remembered By Nicknames At Solemn Wake

Improvements To Area Along Highway Where SUV Plunged Into Zoo Continue
Three generations were killed when their SUV crashed on the Bronx River Parkway on Sunday, April 29, 2012 (credit: Handouts via CBS 2)

Three generations were killed when their SUV crashed on the Bronx River Parkway on Sunday, April 29, 2012 (credit: Handouts via CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There was heartbreak in the Bronx on Thursday as a wake was held for seven family members killed in a horrific crash last weekend on the Bronx River Parkway.

CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman spent part of the day at the funeral home in Parkchester.

Many families know each other not by formal names, but by first names or nicknames. So it was with the family that lost three generations in Sunday’s crash near the Bronx Zoo.

Killed were Maria Gonzalez, 45, along with her parents, 85-year-old Jacob Nunez and 81-year-old Ana Julia Martinez, her sister 39-year-old Maria Nunez, her 10-year-old daughter Jocelyn Gonzalez and two nieces, 7-year-old Niely Rosario and 3-year-old Marly Rosario.

As Guzman found out Thursday, Maria Gonzalez was known as “Fina.” It was short for Josephina, her middle name. She had been the one driving at the time of the terrible tragedy. Her sister, Maria Nunez, was often called “Nelly.”

“It’s really difficult for me, knowing this family for many years. We have united ourselves every year, every Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving and it been really strong for me,” said David Rodriguez, the victims’ nephew.

Maria Gonzalez’s father was known as “Jacobo,” Spanish for Jacob to his friends and family.

“You can’t put them into words. I mean, think about having seven different open caskets in there. To see the little girls there. To see the family. Obviously, you can see the outpouring of support and grief,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. told CBS 2’s Guzman.

Although Maria Gonzalez, the driver, was apparently speeding, the crash has resulted in safety measures that could save other lives, including a higher wall to block a vehicle from going over the edge, as well as more signs.

Construction continued Thursday on the stretch of the Bronx River where the family perished when their SUV crashed off the roadway.

State Department of Transportation workers are installing taller concrete barriers along an elevated stretch of the parkway and have reduced the speed limit to 35 mph while the work is ongoing.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports

Crews were hard at work overnight Wednesday fixing the span of road that has been the target of years of criticism.

The outcry peaked this week when three generations of the family were killed Sunday after their SUV clipped a wall and then plunged 60-feet off a bridge into an unoccupied portion of the Bronx Zoo.

But this stretch of road is no stranger to accidents. In 2006, the same spot was the site of a head-on crash that killed six people.

Last June, a car launched over the edge, crashing onto a fence below.  Amazingly, the two people inside the car walked away.

Studies have long cited the roadway’s poor sight-lines, lack of shoulders and low curbs and railings — conditions that may have added to last weekend’s tragedy.

Officials said when the Honda Pilot hit the curb, the vehicle launched over the waist-high railings and came crashing down into Bronx Zoo property. Investigators say the vehicle was going 69 mph, nine miles over the posted speed limit.

“It’s sad it had to wait for people to be dying to fix the highways, but they’re working pretty fast on it,” said driver Wilfredo Moyett.

Transportation officials have had their eye on fixing this roadway for decades, but it’s never been a top budget priority. Instead of piecemeal improvements, the state wanted a complete bridge replacement, but the money was never there.

Now, the state is taking action and higher concrete barriers will soon be built. The new concrete barriers will be twice as high as the current ones.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary,” said driver Adian Royal. “I think the barriers as they stood were too low and unsafe.”

Meanwhile, Fordham University, where two of the victims worked, has created a relief fund for the family. Maria Gonzalez and her sister Maria Nunez worked in the school’s custodial department.

“No worse tragedy can befall a family, and words are simply inadequate to convey the grief their loved ones must feel today,” Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president, said in a statement on the school’s website. “Therefore, I ask you to join with me in praying for the Gonzalez and Nunez families. I offer, too, my direct and heartfelt condolences to the friends and coworkers of the victims who work and study here at Fordham. I know the University community joins me in keeping you in our thoughts and prayers, as well.”

Checks should be made to the Fordham University Disaster Relief Fund with the memo section of the check stating “Gonzalez/Nunez Family” and mailed to:

Fordham University – Office of the President
Attention: Dorothy Marinucci
441 East Fordham Road
Administrative Building, First Floor – Rose Hill Campus
Bronx, New York 10458

Other fundraisers for the family have also been set up by the New York State Federation Of Taxi Drivers where Gonzalez’s husband, Juan Gonzalez, works and by a Latino fraternity at Pace University where Gonzalez’s son goes to school.

So far, more than $30,000 has been raised by the New York State Federation Of Taxi Drivers.

The funeral Mass for the victims will be Friday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx.

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