PEARL RIVER, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Rockland County community is in mourning after a fiery crash killed two teens and left another with serious injuries.
A collision sent their SUV plunging 50 feet off an overpass onto train tracks below on Sunday afternoon.
Saniha Cekic, a 15-year-old girl from Brooklyn, and Altin Nezaj, a 17-year-old boy from Pearl River, were both killed. The driver, 17-year-old Aisha Radoncic from Orangeburg, was badly hurt but survived, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Cekic’s heartbroken father said she was an honor student at Edward R. Murrow High School with dreams of becoming a doctor or lawyer.
“I can’t bear. I don’t know why is … my wife is broken down. She’s the only daughter I have. She’s a twin. My son … they’re only 15 years old. My son is destroyed,” Began Cekic said. “If there is an angel, she is an angel. Only 15, all her life in front of her.”
“She was a beautiful child, beautiful, beautiful cousin, beautiful daughter. Our family is devastated now,” cousin Ismael Cekic added.
Began Cekic said his daughter and Radoncic were cousins and were spending the long weekend together at her aunt’s house in Rockland County.
“They were closing the pool for the season and they went to go buy bagels or something,” he said holding back tears. “That was her destiny.”
Web Extra: Pearl River Schools Superintendent Talks About Teens Killed, Seriously Hurt In Crash
Radoncic and Nezaj knew each other from Pearl River High School, where they were seniors.
“We find ourselves in the midst of an awful, awful tragedy. Two senior students were involved in a horrible accident yesterday,” Superintendent Marco Pochintesta told reporters Monday.
Pochintesta said grief counselors would be on hand to help students throughout the week.
“This is a remarkable community for its resilience and its ability to come together in times of tragedy, and this is no different,” he said.
“We’re always going to remember Altin Nezaj as the terrific student and athlete that he was,” he added.
Sophomore Nick Carbone said he looked up to Nezaj.
“I still don’t believe it. Looking at these flowers and stuff. Just insane,” Carbone said. “He was just a great spirit to be around. Everyone loved him.”
Residents said they heard the crash around 3:30 p.m. Sunday near the Crooked Hill Road Overpass on Route 304 in Pearl River.
“I was washing the car and, all of a sudden, I heard this big bang,” neighbor Joe Geppner told CBS2.
They desperately tried to help as the teens’ Porsche burst into flames.
“We started trying to get fire extinguishers and we started trying to put out the fire, because all we heard was this poor girl screaming, and she was screaming terribly,” Geppner said.
Route 304 was shut down and part of the NJ TRANSIT Pascack Valley line was suspended in both directions as emergency responders worked to extinguish the fire.
“Thank God the fire department came and they started dousing it with water and whatever else they could,” said Geppner. “To tell you the truth, it took a long time. I kept seeing the flames. No matter what they did, they just kept coming up.”
Hundreds of people paid their respects to Saniha Cekic on Monday night at her family’s mosque in Astoria, Queens.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman reports the block was filled for hours with relatives and friends.
“My sunshine, my beauty, my love. She was the reason I live for,” Began Cekic said.
The father helped carry her casket into the mosque for his daughter’s wake.
“I wish he took me. I wish he took me so she could live,” he said.
“Honor students, top of their class. It was just a holiday weekend, so they figured they’d spend some time together,” cousin Ismail Cekic said.
“She was the best. She was an angel. I hope she’s in a better place,” Began Cekic said.
The crowd was expected to stay through the night until Saniha’s burial Tuesday morning.
Radoncic remains in critical condition at Westchester Medical Center.
The driver of the other vehicle was not hurt. Police are still investigating the cause of the crash and say they do not think drugs or alcohol were involved. They do, however, believe speed was a factor.