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Family Members Mourn Group of Friends Killed in Steinway Creek

By Katie Honan | April 7, 2014 6:10pm
  The four friends grew up together in East Elmhurst and had just celebrated one of their birthdays.
Family Members Mourn Group of Friends Killed in Astoria Creek
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EAST ELMHURST — Devastated family members began funeral arrangements Monday for the close-knit group of friends who were killed over the weekend when the car they were driving in plunged into Steinway Creek in Astoria.

Jaleel Feurtado, 20, Crystal Gravely, 19, Jada Monique Butts, 19 and Darius Fletcher, 21, all lived within blocks of one another in East Elmhurst and died after the car they were in hit a curb on 19th Avenue and flipped into the creek, according to police.

The 20-year-old driver of the 2009 Honda Accord managed to get out and call 911, but the four passengers were pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver was not charged, but the accident is still under investigation, according to the Queens District Attorney's Office.

The friends were on their way home after celebrating Gravely's birthday at a restaurant on Steinway Street in Astoria when the driver, who was speeding, tried to make a U-turn and lost control of the car on the rain-slick pavement, police and family said.

The car hit a curb on the street, which was a dead end, and rolled down the embankment into the water, trapping the passengers. The driver was able to escape.

"They were positive children," said Paula Slader, Butts' mom. "They had fun with each other, went out together."

Butts had been attending Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she had recently switched to general studies after originally pursuing nursing, her mother said.

She was the middle child of three in the house where she lived and Slader joked that she was spoiled — and was very particular about her hair, makeup and clothes.

"She was stern but she was sweet," she said, and fiercely loyal to her "crew," which included her friends and many cousins, who lived as far as St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

"She was loved by everybody."

The four victims went to I.S. 127 in East Elmhurst, and remained friends as they grew older, according to Slader.

Feurtado lived a few houses away from Butts, and last week modeled hats for another friend's clothing company, according to his Instagram page.

He played basketball at Monsignor McClancy High School in East Elmhurst, which he graduated from in 2011, according to the school. And he went on to play for St. Petersburg College in Florida.

His family was arranging for his memorial on Monday morning, and declined to comment.

Fletcher attended William Paterson University in New Jersey, according to his Facebook page, and lived a block away from Feurtado and Butts.

Gravely went to LaGuardia Community College.

Friends created a memorial at the site of the crash, with dozens of candles, flowers, a basketball and a cross.

Messages were spray painted on a concrete barrier installed after Friday's crash — including one that read "too little too late."

The barriers were not in place Friday night when the car hit a curb after traveling on 19th Avenue near 37th Street in an industrial part of Astoria.

Meanwhile, the families worked to finalize plans to bury the young friends.

Slader said she's been grieving with the other mothers, who all live nearby, and her two other children have helped keep her strong.

"I still have my moments where I break down," she said. "I don't think it's ever going away for me."