Queens residents on Tuesday continued to mourn the deaths of four East Elmhurst youths killed when a car plunged into Steinway creek Friday night, as authorities keep investigating the cause of the accident.
“They were good kids, they used to play basketball here,” said Patricia Suero, a school crossing agent at PS. 127 Q, the middle school where the friends met and graduated together. “This has been very unfortunate for their families, there are too many broken hearts.”
Darius Fletcher, 21; Crystal Gravely, 19; Jaleel Feurtado, 20; and Jada Butts, 19, died after the Honda they were riding flipped over into the creek near 19th Avenue and 37th Street in an industrial area of Astoria.
The driver, Andrew Gramm, 20, escaped from the car and was taken to Elmhurst hospital, from where he was released after a couple of days, authorities said.
According to the police, Gramm was speeding as he crossed two “Dead End” signs. As he tried to make a U-turn, the car slipped on the wet road and flipped over into the water. Gramm had no alcohol in his system and has not been criminally charged, police also said.
Neighbors raised questions about the condition of the area, in specific of a damaged metallic guardrail that separated the road from the waterway. According to witnesses, the Department of Transportation installed large concrete barriers after the incident.
“Maybe if it [the road] had been properly identified as it is now, this might not have happened,” said Brian Lukemberg, an employee at Deborah Car & Limousine, a car service company located a couple of yards away from the creek. “Maybe it was both reckless driving and DOT responsibility, but there is no way to know.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has asked for a review of safety measures on roads near bodies of water. A DOT spokesman said they are considering the Gianaris petition and that they will not comment on the incident of Steinway Creek, as it is still being investigated.
A friend of one of the families, who identified herself only as Catherine, visited the small candle and flower-filled memorial at the creek the night after the accident.
“They had an amazing future ahead and their families loved them so much,” she said. “I just want to understand how all of this happened. It’s just horribly sad.”