Three men returning from a shared birthday celebration were killed early Sunday when their car struck a bridge embankment on the Southern State Parkway in Roosevelt and exploded in flames, trapping them inside.
Family and friends say Brendon McRae, Naquan Bell and Stanley Sagesse were coming back from a club in Manhattan shortly after 5 a.m. when, according to authorities, McRae - driving a 2006 Saturn Ion eastbound - left the roadway near Exit 21.
"I grabbed him and put him in a safe zone," Zuluaga said of his efforts to rescue Bell, who was in a rear seat. "I went to go run back and grab the other kid. . . . I tried to pull him out. At this point the vehicle began popping and hissing."
Zuluaga said he told bystanders to get back because he sensed the car was about to explode. Despite the heat and the flames, Zuluaga said he made two more attempts to rescue the remaining occupants.
Authorities said that after Bell was pulled from the car, Fagan continued to spray him with a fire extinguisher, eventually putting out the flames.
Authorities did not immediately pinpoint a cause of the crash.
William McRae of Roosevelt, who identified himself as Brendon McRae's father and Naquan Bell's grandfather, said the three had been out for a birthday gathering. Naquan Bell's 21st birthday was Tuesday, he said, and Brendon McRae's 24th birthday was Jan. 28.
"God took them," William McRae said. "They were good kids trying to make it in the world."
McRae said Brendon McRae, of Roosevelt, and Bell, of Floral Park, attended Sewanhaka High School, where they both were starting quarterbacks on the football team.
He said Naquan Bell was planning to attend Nassau Community College soon.
"They had everything ahead of them," said Brendon's older brother Paul McRae.
McRae and Sagesse, 23, worked as patient transporters at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola.
"The news about the tragic accident this morning was devastating to the staff," said hospital spokesman John Broder. "The Winthrop team works very closely and is much like a large family."
David DeJesus of Hicksville, a friend and former co-worker of both men, described the pair as "fun guys to be around all the time."
He said McRae's dream was to be a rapper and that his efforts had just recently begun to pay off, with a demo tape finished last week.
Sagesse, of Hempstead, graduated from Uniondale High School, DeJesus said, and was a passionate collector of old sports team hats and vintage basketball shoes. "He was such a funny guy," DeJesus said, "such a well-liked guy."
By Sunday evening, three roadside memorials of flowers and heart-shaped balloons had been left just west of the crash site by the parkway's eastbound lanes.
With Jennifer Barrios, Tania Lopez and Nicholas Spangler