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Police are investigating car crash that killed 5 children with a 16-year-old at the wheel

The sole survivor of the crash shortly after midnight was a 9-year-old boy.
/ Source: TODAY

A 9-year-old boy from Derby, Connecticut is the sole survivor of a car crash that killed five other children, say police.

The Westchester County Police Department in New York stated the "very tragic accident" took place on March 19 at 12:20 a.m. According to a police news release, all the children resided in Derby, Connecticut.

"Five persons were killed this morning when the vehicle they were traveling in veered off the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale, struck a tree and caught fire," the news release said.

According to a March 20 police news conference, 16-year-old Malik Smith was driving a 2021 Nissan Rogue SUV at a speed of 55 mph (the speed limit for the road), when his car veered off the New York parkway, struck a boulder, then a tree head-on before bursting into flames.

Malik, along with passengers Anthony Billips Jr., 17, Malik Smith, 16, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross, 11, and Andrew Billips, 8, died from blunt force trauma.

A sixth passenger, a 9-year-old boy named Abraham Billips, was the only survivor.

Law enforcement said that Abraham was able to escape the car from the rear cargo area, helped by an eyewitness. He was transported to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla for non-life-threatening injuries.

Westchester County executive George Latimer said the children’s relationship to each other is unknown but there were at least two sets of siblings in the car.

Malik did not have a learner’s permit or a driver’s license, said Latimer, adding that the car was rented by a relative and it's not clear how Malik gained access to it.

"We do not believe that speed was a factor in this accident," said Latimer. He said evidence indicates that Malik was either distracted or fell asleep at the wheel. "The road curves slightly to the left and goes slightly downhill .... the driver did not turn with the roadway (and) continued in a straight line," he said.

Latimer said toxicology reports are underway to determine if Malik had consumed drugs or alcohol before the crash. He said investigators will determine whether passengers were wearing seatbelts. It's unknown where the group was traveling from.

According to public safety commissioner Terrance Raynor, the investigation is currently not criminal in nature.

"We grieve with the families that are involved," said Latimer. "To lose a child at age 17, 16, 12, 11, 8 — these are individuals who had their whole (lives) ahead of them. There (were) so many things that have been denied them and the opportunity to grow up and live a full life."

Police say the families of the victims have been cooperative thus far in the investigation.

Matthew J. Conway, Jr., the superintendent of Derby Public Schools in Connecticut, tells that the children did not attend the district.

"This is an unimaginable tragedy no family should have to go through," he says. "Our hearts go out to the family."