The five children who were killed in a horrific car crash in Westchester County last month were likely coming back from panhandling at a New Jersey shopping center, cops say.
Sisters Zahnyiah, 12, and Shawnell Cross, 11, their half-brothers AJ Billips Jr., 17, and Andrew Billips, 8, and cousin Malik Smith Jr., 16; all died March 12 on their way back home to Connecticut when Smith, who was driving them, ran off the road on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale.
Police believe that Smith — who did not have a license and was driving a relative’s rented vehicle — might have been distracted or fallen asleep at the wheel and failed to make a turn, crashing into a tree and causing the car to burst into flames.
Another relative, Abraham Billips, 9, was the sole survivor of the crash. He was pulled from the burning vehicle by a good Samaritan who found him in the rear cargo area.
While Westchester County Police continue to investigate the deadly incident, they say footage from a New Jersey shopping center shows the children were likely asking for money from local shoppers just hours before the tragedy, WYMT reported.
Investigators said surveillance video captured the children interacting with several people in the shopping center “in a way that suggested they were panhandling.”
The situation coincides with an incident in August 2022, when police caught AJ and his siblings interacting in a similar fashion with people on Boston Post Road in Connecticut, cops said.
When stopped by police at the time, AJ initially gave the officers a fake name and birthday, and he appeared “extremely guarded and not willing to offer up much information,” authorities said.
“The younger children were his siblings” and appeared “nervous” while claiming they were raising money for a youth basketball team, police said. There was no record of the team.
Investigators probing last month’s crash noted that the children, who lived in Derby, were not enrolled in school at the time of their deaths.
The family remains under investigation with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
Smith’s father, Malik Smith Sr., previously told CBS that he warned his son to stop driving around without a license or permit.
In a photo tribute to his children, dad Anthony Billips Sr. said,“The pain we are feeling words [can’t] even express and we wouldn’t wish this to happen to anyone in this world.”
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