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Queens Chronicle

Four drown after birthday celebration

Car careens into Luyster Creek, killing all but one on Friday night

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Apr 17, 2014.

Darius Fletcher, Jada Monique Butts, Crystal Gravely, Andrew Gramm and Jaleel Furtado were on their way home after celebrating Gravely’s birthday.

Gramm was driving them along 19th Avenue, traveling west, when he hit the curb, careened through a 3-foot-high chain-link fence and rolled over into Luyster Creek, also known as Steinway Creek in Astoria. The car began filling with water and the 20-year-old driver broke out of the vehicle as his friends struggled.

He made his way to shore and said he immediately called 911. According to the NYPD, when officers arrived, the driver was at the end of the road, flagging down rescue workers.

By the time divers got into the water, it was too late.

The two females and one of the males was transported to Elmhurst General Hospital and were pronounced dead on arrival as was the second male passenger, who was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Astoria.

Almost immediately after Friday’s crash, elected officials began issuing statements on the matter.

“My deepest condolences go out to the families of these victims,” Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who represents the area the four young people were from, said in a written statement. “The entire East Elmhurst community is mourning the loss of these four wonderful young adults. Their memory will forever be upheld in our minds and hearts.”

State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) even called on the Department of Transportation to conduct a review of safety measures on the roads leading up to the water, a tributary of the East River.

Gianaris said reports from the crash raised questions about the strength of the fence and added that there is a lack of proper signage indicating that the street leads to a dead end — there is an “end” sign posted by the fence where the four young adults died.

“As our community deals with this tragic accident, we must work together to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future,” he said in a written statement. “DOT must make our streets safer by reviewing all roads leading to waterways as there may be similar dangers in other neighborhoods throughout our city. This accident was avoidable and something must be done to keep people safe as they drive, walk or cycle on our roadways.”

Friends and family members placed flowers, candles and other mementos — including a basketball — near the shore where Fletcher, Butts, Gravely and Furtado took their last breaths.

Brittany Cervino, a friend of Gramm and Furtado, was particularly emotional when she visited the scene. She was comforted by her friends and released balloons — one of which was a basketball balloon — in honor of the two young men.

“They used to play basketball together,” she said.

Gravely would have turned 20 on Saturday. Funeral arrangements were not made available as of press time. The NYPD said the Highway Collision Investigation Squad is investigating the incident.

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