The New York Times
September 7, 1999
2 Killed in Brooklyn Parade, 3d Dies in Accident Afterward
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Two 11-year-old children were killed and another child was injured yesterday afternoon when a minivan lurched out of control at the annual Caribbean parade in Brooklyn. The accident cast a pall over a joyful festival that has grown into one of the largest gatherings in New York City.
The van, which was covered with feathers and carrying costumes for parade performers, struck the children as they danced in the streets to the bouncing rhythms of Trinidadian soca music, pinning them against a mammoth sound truck just in front.
Hours later, as revelers were dispersing after the parade, an 18-year-old man was struck and killed by a sound truck along the parade route, the police said.
The accident that killed the two children came at the peak of the West Indian American Carnival parade, a festival that offers the city's West Indian immigrants a joyful release from the activities of daily life. The police did not have a crowd estimate last night, but in previous years the parade has drawn two million people, making it the largest parade in New York.
The accident delayed the festivities but did not stop them. Under unexpectedly sunny skies, nurses and cooks, housekeepers and lawyers donned sequined and feathered costumes for the procession along Eastern Parkway. Vendors served jerk chicken, curried goat and the cool juice of sorrel while flags from every Caribbean nation doubled as head scarves and sarongs. Spectators squeezed against one another, most of them unaware of the crash.
The two 11-year-olds, a boy named Dawn Joseph and a girl named Zacehel David, were taken to Kings County Hospital Center, where they were pronounced dead. A third child, Kara Charles, 10, suffered neck and back injuries and was in stable condition last night. Four others in the parade suffered minor injuries.
The police said the crash, which occurred shortly before 2 P.M., appeared to have been an accident. The driver of the van and the driver of the truck, which was carrying a soca band called Caribbean Magic, were tested for alcohol but were not intoxicated, said Inspector Michael Collins, a police spokesman.
''The victims appeared to be dancing between the van and the truck,'' Inspector Collins said. ''It doesn't appear to be alcohol-related or mechanical failure. It just looks like an accident.''
The van, a black Astro, was carrying costumes for dancers and performers up ahead. Just before the accident, the police said, the driver, Ashton P. Gertton, 71, of Brooklyn, had stepped out of the van to help some dancers with their costumes.
When he returned to the driver's seat, he apparently lost control. The driver of the truck ahead, Winston G. Scott, also of Brooklyn, was arrested on a charge of driving with a suspended license, but he was not cited in connection with the accident, the police said.
Dawn Joseph had moved to Brooklyn from Florida in July to live with his mother and grandfather, the grandfather, Augustus Joseph, said last night. The boy was to start junior high school this week, and his mother, Donna, planned to enroll him in karate classes, Mr. Joseph, 54, said from the porch of his house on Midwood Street in East Flatbush.
Instead, Donna Joseph held her only child in her arms as he died, Mr. Joseph said.
''She said she just saw the van take off and she couldn't believe it was going to hit those kids,'' he said. ''But by the time she ran to try to get him out of the way, the van had already hit him. He was just crushed.''
For a little more than two hours, police officers blocked the westbound lanes of Eastern Parkway near the corner of Nostrand Avenue, where the accident had occurred. The parade continued on the two other lanes, and a cadre of police officers tried to keep an increasingly frustrated crowd behind barricades. Those who witnessed the accident described it as a momentary flash of horror, almost soundless in the midst of a noisy and boisterous celebration.
James Charles, 43, of Paterson, N.J., was standing in the shade of a tree near the intersection when, he said, he saw the minivan inexplicably accelerate. ''It just picked up speed all of a sudden and rammed into the truck,'' said Mr. Charles, a maintenance man and a native of Trinidad. ''The people were pinned in between.''
Like dozens of others, he jumped over a barricade in an effort to help, he said. A woman was pumping a little girl's chest. Another was trying to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Paramedics arrived within minutes, he said, and the police blocked off the area.
A jumble of white and pink feathers along with crushed plastic bottles lay on the street yesterday afternoon, marking the spot of the accident. After the police cleared the area and reopened the eastbound lanes of the parkway, a sound truck bearing a Trinidadian band, Krosfyah, sang their version of Bob Marley's ''Redemption Song.''
It was not the first time the Caribbean parade has been marred by fatal accidents. In 1997 a parade spectator was struck by a vehicle and killed, the police said, and in 1994 a man was crushed by the wheels of a float .
The second fatal accident yesterday occurred about 8 P.M., after the parade had ended but before all the sound trucks had been cleared off the parkway, the police said. Kevon Donovan, 18, apparently got his clothing caught in the wheel of a tractor-trailer truck near the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and was dragged under it, said Officer Valerie St. Rose, a police spokeswoman.
Witnesses said that Mr. Donovan, of Clarkson Avenue in East Flatbush, had backed into the street along with several other people when someone in the crowd brought out a large yellow snake.
''A guy came through with a snake and that's what I guess got him shook,'' said Ryan Girard, a friend of Mr. Donovan's who was mourning him outside Kings County Hospital, where he died at 9:25 P.M. ''Everybody started pushing. I tried to pull him out from under the truck, but I couldn't do nothing. He looked at me and called out my name.''
Mr. Donovan was from the Caribbean island commonwealth St. Lucia and was going into 12th grade at Frederick Douglass High School, Mr. Girard said.
The driver of the truck, Hugh Bennett, 50, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., was not charged in connection with the accident, although he was arrested on a warrant for failure to pay child support, the police said.
For the last several years, the parade has become the major event for Labor Day in the city, eclipsing the procession organized by union leaders, who this year held their parade on the Wednesday before Labor Day.
Even though the parade is an expression of Caribbean culture rather than labor solidarity, the celebration is in many ways a fitting Labor Day procession, led by thousands of men and women who make the city work. But for this Labor Day parade, workaday clothes often take a holiday.
Yesterday, a nurse who works the night shift at Kings County Hospital strutted around in a costume with six serpents dancing above his head.
A security guard who commutes for two hours every day called herself Tiger Tiger, outfitted in a leopard-spot bodysuit. A beautician from Far Rockaway, Queens, became a butterfly with gossamer wings of blue and silver.
Indeed, for those who do it year after year, playing mas, as the masquerade of Carnival is called, is not just a reminder of the rituals of home, but a brief escape from the trouble and toil of everyday existence.
''Because of the stressful life we have, everybody looks forward to this,'' said Ricardo Lorick, the nurse, who was parading yesterday with a group called Hawks International. ''Instead of taking my frustration out on my family and my patients, I save it up and take it out here.''
Several of his colleagues from Kings County marched in hospital T-shirts. ''That's boring,'' Mr. Lorick said flatly. Instead, he posed for pictures early yesterday afternoon in an outfit he designed and built at home -- an imaginary creature with gold wings and six snake heads. He called himself Beast Master. ''I like being in the spotlight.''
He wasn't alone. Michael Lewis, the king of Hawks International, showed a visitor his turquoise blue costume, which weighed 60 pounds.
He said he and his wife had spent nearly $10,000 on their costumes this year and had spent countless evenings cutting and sewing in the backyard of their house in Richmond Hill, all for a hot afternoon of dancing and extravagant display.
Today, he will return to work in a suit and tie, as a chief financial officer of a legal services agency. ''For 35 to 55 hours a week, you're in an office, and you need an outlet,'' said Mr. Lewis, 48. ''Although this is very difficult work -- a lot of time goes into it -- it's very relaxing to me. A lot of people will tell you this is therapy for me, instead of paying a psychiatrist.''