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Bronx family had just left Nigerian gathering at Richmond Hill hall before crash

Authorities haul away what is left of the Mercedes-Benz SUV after it slammed into a concrete pillar and flipped over, killing five passengers inside. AP Photo by John Minchillo
TimesLedger Newspapers

Oby Okoro, the woman the NYPD identified as the driver in a gruesome accident Sunday morning in Jamaica that left five passengers dead, told police she lost control of her Mercedes-Benz because the brakes failed, according to a report.

Okoro was driving the 2008 Benz filled with Nigerian family members after leaving a Richmond Hill benefit for the Nigerian town of Arondizuogu, police and family members said.

The black Mercedes Benz SUV was traveling east on Atlantic Avenue around 3:18 a.m. when after crossing over the Van Wyck Expressway, it slammed into one of the concrete columns supporting the AirTrain track overhead. The SUV flipped over and slid to a halt near a Long Island Rail Road employee parking lot and went up in flames, according to the NYPD.

Okoro and two passengers, 7-year-old Cjidechukwu Obioha and 26-year-old Kingsley Maduka survived the crash and were taken to Jamaica Hospital where they were listed in stable condition, according to police.

Five other passengers — Munachimso Obioha, 8, Ebube Obafor-Mba, 9, Gladys Nnena Johnson Obioha, 60, Chiwe Mcdonald, 45, and Christine Epchon, whose age had not been released — were pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Everyone in the vehicle shared the same Bronx address except for Epchon, who lived in Brooklyn.

The New York Post reported Tuesday that Okoro told police her brakes failed.

Victor Lopez was asleep at a friend’s house nearby early Sunday when he was awakened by the sound of a loud crash and went outside to see what had happened.

“There were bodies all over the place in different positions,” he said. “They were thrown out of the car.”

Lopez said only the vehicle’s driver was wearing her seat belt and still in the SUV when police and firefighters responded. The others were thrown from the vehicle as it landed on the driver’s side.

“There was one body here, one there, one there,” he said later in the day. “Man, there was a lot of blood.”

Atlantic Avenue curves south as it approaches the expressway overpass. The roadway dips down and then curves back north just at the point where the AirTrain column rests a few feet from the street.

A couple of Long Island Rail Road employees said the intersection can be dangerous, and cars trying to beat a yellow light can become airborne because of the dip.

Friends and relatives at Jamaica Hospital later in the day said the family had just left the Golden Terrace Banquet Hall just down the road in Richmond Hill, where they attended an annual meeting of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union. According to its website, the group is a non-profit made up of members in the tri-state area who participate in charity work for the Nigerian town.

Larry Alisa, a conference member who traveled to Queens from Connecticut, said some of the car’s occupants were from New York, others were from out of state.

“Everyone in the car was related one way or another,” he said. “We are trying to find out exactly what happened.”

“Right now it’s still kind of sketchy,” he added.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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