BRONX, NY (PIX11)—A processional of sadness drove up Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx Friday morning. Seven hearses in a row carried three generations of one family, who'd perished in a horrific car crash last Sunday.
Minutes before the start of the 10:00 A.M. funeral mass, workers brought one after another, after yet another casket into St. Raymond's Church. A couple of the seven white caskets were shorter than standard length, emphasizing the span of eighty-two years among the people who had passed away.
"This is something really horrific," mourner Fernando Bonilla told PIX11 News. "All I've been doing is praying to God ever since that happened." The friend and co-worker of Maria Gonzales, 45, and Maria Nunez, 39, talked about the tragedy that struck the two sisters who'd worked together as custodians at Fordham University.
Last Sunday, Gonzales was behind the wheel when her Honda Pilot SUV hit the center barrier of the Bronx River Parkway near the zoo, traveling at least 20 miles per hour over the 50 m.p.h. speed limit, according to investigators. They say the SUV careened back to the side of the roadway, flipped over the side barrier, dropped six stories upside down, and crash landed, killing everyone inside, even though they had all been belted in.
The passengers included the sisters' parents, Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, as well as Gonzalez's daughter Jazlyn, 10, who'd been scheduled to have her first communion on Saturday. Jazlyn's cousins, Naily Rosario, 7, and Maily Rosario, 3, also passed away.
"They were friends," Jacobin Escobar said about his daughter, whose face was wet with tears, and Naily. "Right now she's crying too much [to speak]. It's so emotional." His daughter was among the dozens of deeply affected classmates and playmates of the deceased girls who attended the funeral.
"She's my friend," Deanera Cordero, her face and eyes red from crying, said about Naily, as Deanera's mother comforted her. "She was nice to me."
While the tragedy cannot be redeemed, it did at least produce a note of optimism through the kindness shown to the deceased family by strangers. Gonzalez was survived by her husband and two sons, one of whom was a freshman at Pace University, who had recently pledged Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity. Through an appeal directed by the Pace fraternity president, the organization raised more than $100,000 for the family.
That gift, plus additional funds raised by the city's main livery cab organization and alumni and staff of Fordham University left the family with enough money to pay for the funeral and burial of all seven fallen family members.
State Senator Malcolm Smith, himself a Fordham alumnus who tried helped to raise funds, was in attendance at the funeral mass. "We do what we can for the family," he told PIX11 News, "[But] there's nothing that can take the place of a loss at this level."
The bodies of the grandparents, who had been visiting the Bronx from the Dominican Republic when the crash occurred, are being flown back to their home country for burial. The other six family members were buried later Friday morning in the Bronx.