Two children dead, driver charged after accident


| nrosenberg@queenscourier.com |

Two foster children are dead, one is in critical condition and a driver has been charged with manslaughter after a multiple-vehicle accident in St. Albans on Monday, October 26.

According to a police report, two minivans collided shortly before 5 p.m., after one of the vehicles crossed a double-yellow line in the vicinity of 104-46 Dunkirk Street, near the intersection of Liberty Avenue.

The report said that a 1995 Mazda minivan, operated by 45-year-old Sheila Bethea, was traveling northbound on Dunkirk Street – at a high rate of speed, the Queens District Attorney (DA) said – when it veered into the southbound lane, began traveling sideways and collided with a 1998 Toyota minivan.

In addition to Bethea, the Mazda was carrying a 43-year-old female and five girls between the ages of five and 15. The eldest girl, Katherine Willis, was pronounced dead upon arrival at Queens Hospital Center (QHC) on Monday evening and one of the youngest, Melissa Elh-Mirra, 5, died at Long Island Jewish Medical Center early Tuesday morning, October 27.

Another five-year-old, who was taken to QHC, was in critical condition, while an 11- and 10-year-old taken to Jamaica Hospital were stable, police said. The 43-year-old passenger and Bethea remain hospitalized.

The driver and lone occupant of the Toyota, a 63-year-old male who has not yet been identified, was transported by EMS to North Shore University Hospital, where he was treated and released, according to the DA’s office.

Bethea was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. She faces up to seven years in prison.

“As a result of the defendant’s alleged actions, the lives of two young people have been needlessly and prematurely forfeited…” DA Richard Brown said in a statement, later noting that the girls involved in the collision are believed to be Bethea’s mother’s foster children.

According to published reports, the Mazda driven by Bethea had no car seats for her younger passengers. In the statement released by his office, Brown said it is alleged that the minivan’s middle row of seats was missing and at least one child was sitting on the vehicle’s floor.