THE BRONX — Mourners wailed and prayed inside a two-family home in Soundview Monday, mourning the loss of seven family members in a tragic car accident Sunday afternoon.
''I lost my whole life, I lost my daughters, I lost my wife,” said Juan Ramon Rosario, whose wife, Maria Nunez, 39 and daughters Marlyn, 3, and Niely, 7, died while driving to their aunt’s house for a family reunion.
Nunez’s sister Maria Gonzalez, 45, had picked Nunez and her daughters up from their home in Pelham Bay North along with her daughter Jocelyn, 9, and their parents, Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81.
The family was on its way to Gonzalez’s home on Taylor Avenue to celebrate the arrival of the sister’s father and mother, who had arrived just days before from the Dominican Republic for a monthlong vacation, when the car flipped over the barrier at the edge of the road and plunged into a seldom-used section of the Bronx Zoo.
"Never take people in your family for granted," grieving father and husband Rosario said through sobs. "You never know when your conversation with them will be the last one. Always tell them you love them."
The parents were in town this month to celebrate their granddaughter Jazlyn’s First Holy Communion, which was scheduled for next Saturday at nearby St. Raymond’s Church on Castle Hill Avenue.
Maria Gonzalez's husband, Juan, said his wife had already bought Jazlyn’s white communion dress for the event. As family and friends tried to make sense of the tragic accident, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called for a major makeover of the Bronx River Parkway where the incident took place.
Diaz said something must be done immediately to prevent future accidents, and said he was in talks with the governor’s office and the state Department of Transportation, to find a solution for the roadway, which he said had been problematic for years.
"There’s always something wrong with the roadway and we need to repair that," he said before visiting the family early Monday evening, listing problems including a rough roadway, recurring potholes and a potentially insufficient median and railing.
"I believe strongly that, if the railing was higher, at the very worst, you would have had a very bad car accident, and not a vehicle going over killing seven," he said, adding that he has called for road repairs in the past, but said that his office has not analyzed the effectiveness of the railings.
The DOT and governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In 2006, six people were killed at the same location when their car jumped the divider and slammed into oncoming traffic in the southbound lane.
Last June, another accident on the Bronx River Parkway near the zoo caused an SUV to fall more than 20 feet into a parking lot after hitting a divider. No one died in that accident.
"It shouldn't take people dying to realize they should fix these roads," said Nino Torres, 24, a nephew of the deceased sisters.
"There should be repairs done so that this never happens again," said Gonzalez's husband Juan, who will now be raising his sons Jeury, 12, and Jonel, 18, on his own. "We are suffering... In less than a year, the same thing happened to two cars. The construction is not as it should be."
Members of surviving son Jonel Gonzalez's fraternity at Pace University, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, had collected nearly $25,000 in donations Monday afternoon.
Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, also announced a donation drive led by city cab drivers. Gonzalez’s husband Juan works as a livery cab driver.
"We are coming together not only as an industry, but also as New Yorkers," he said adding that costs for the family stemming from the accident could be upward of $100,000. "This family right now is in mourning. We want them to mourn while we as New Yorkers, as people, as human beings, put the funds together that they're going to need."
Fordham University, where the two sisters worked in the Custodial Services department, also announced it would celebrate a special Mass for the family on Tuesday.
"It is hard to imagine a more tragic loss for a family, nor a more terrible grief than their loved ones must be enduring," said the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., Fordham's president.
As Gonzalez’s husband Juan stood before the crowd at his home on Taylor Street, he paused to thank the community, co-workers and police for their help.
''I can remember the little things," he said with eyes red rimmed from crying. "I'll never forget them, ever."
The family plans to hold a wake at the Ortiz Funeral Home at 2121 Westchester Ave. on Thursday, between 4 and 9 p.m.
Donations can be made by calling 917-688-1648.