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East Elmhurst Community Mourns Loss Of 4 After Car Plunges Into Steinway Creek

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — What started as a birthday celebration ended with four people dead after the car they were in plunged into Steinway Creek off of the East River Friday night.

The FDNY said the Honda Accord went into the water near 37th Street and 19th Avenue in Astoria, Queens around 10:30 p.m.

The 20-year-old driver, Andrew Gramm, managed to escape and call for help. His injuries were serious but not life-threatening, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.

“Upon arrival we saw a gentleman down the block waving us in. We drove down to the scene. He informed us that he was the driver, that he was able to self evacuate and there were four confirmed people in the car,” FDNY Chief James Jacobs said.

The car was flipped on its roof. The roof was at the bottom of the creek, and the car was about 8 feet underwater.

Rescuers made it on scene within minutes. Divers repeatedly swam to the submerged car, scrambling to pull out the two young women and two young men trapped. But it was too late, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported.

On Saturday morning, the victims were identified as Darius Fletcher, 21; Jada Monique-Butts, 19; Crystal Gravely, 19; and Jaleel Furtado, 20, 1010 WINS reported.

All of the victims were from East Elmhurst, Queens, Langford reported.

Police are working to determine whether speed was a factor in the accident, 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern reported.

“I see people speeding down this street every night and just pray to God that none of this is going to happen, but it did.” one area resident told Langford.

Julio Agudlo, a cab dispatcher working the overnight shift in a nearby building, told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall that a number of conditions may have factored into the crash.

“It was just a perfect storm. There’s no signs back there or anything. There’s not a signal that says ‘dead end.’ The only sign we have is up the block,” Aguldo said.

Aguldo added that it was foggy when the crash happened and that the group may have been lost.

Why the vehicle ended up in the water is ultimately a matter for investigators, but the heartbreaking results were written all over the grief-stricken faces of the victims’ families and friends.

“Four kids that didn’t even see the rest of their lives. Didn’t even reach 21 and just gone, just like that overnight,” one of the victims’ friends said.

“She was such a beautiful, young girl and I can’t believe this happened to her,” another grieving friend said.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, the East Elmhurst community is mourning the loss of the four young victims.

“Some things happen in life and you really can’t put your finger on it, and you just have to believe in God,” family friend Terrane Redic said.

A memorial now grows just feet from the creek where the night of fun ended to tragically.

In a truly emotional moment during a vigil on Saturday, attendees sang Happy Birthday to Gravely.

The group of friends had been out celebrating her birthday when the accident happened, Champion reported.

“We ask for your prayers, your support, and for you to give us some time and space,” said Furtado’s cousin Bernard Daniels.

Just hours after the tragedy, the city’s Department of Transportation, installed new concrete barriers where the previous safety measures failed to save four young lives.

Meanwhile, police are still investigating how the accident happened.

Police said Gramm did not have alcohol in his system at the time of the accident.

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