An Elmont seventh-grader described by her family as a “star” was fatally struck by a sport utility vehicle Monday morning as she crossed a busy street with her twin sister on their way to school, officials said.
It’s not the first time the family of Gabrielle Christina Johnson has been touched by tragedy. In August 2002, Gabrielle’s mother, Carolyn Spence, was driving on the Belt Parkway near the Cross Island Parkway in Laurelton when her car was struck by a drunken driver, said Spence’s sister, Christine Rose. The crash killed Spence’s 8-year-old son, Andre Johnson.
“It’s just too much, too much for one family to bear,” Rose said.
On Monday, Gabrielle, 12, was struck on Elmont Road at 7:37 a.m. near a rear entrance to Elmont Memorial High School. The driver, identified by police only as a 38-year-old man from Far Rockaway, had a green light when his southbound Nissan Rogue struck Gabrielle, police said.
The girl was taken to Franklin Hospital, where she died at 8:52 a.m., police said.
“There is no criminality involved,” Nassau police Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun told reporters at the scene. LeBrun declined to release the name of the driver or confirm Gabrielle’s identity.
Gabrielle’s devastated relatives gathered to mourn at her family’s home — less than a half-mile from the school — and recalled how she played the flute and dreamed of joining the track team.
“Gabrielle was just a star; She was,” Rose said. “She wanted to do everything. She swam. She played the flute. She ran track. She wanted to play volleyball. She wanted to do everything. She was an amazing kid.”
Gabrielle and her twin sister, Courtney, who had celebrated their 12th birthday on Dec. 3 and were described as “inseparable,” walked down Village Avenue to school together on Monday, just as they had each morning, their aunt said. Gabrielle, whom everyone called “Gabby,” had finished a call with her mother and five minutes later, Courtney called their mom back.
Rose said Courtney told her mother: “Mommy, something happened to Gabby.”
Courtney, clutching a teddy bear, arrived home with other family members Monday afternoon. The girls, who still played with dolls, had dressed identically for all their lives until only recently.
“They’re 12 years old,” said Rose, 49, an MTA worker who lives in New Jersey, as tears slid down her cheeks.
Gabrielle and Courtney had not been born at the time of the crash that killed their brother. Their older sister, Paula Johnson, now 28, survived that crash, Rose said.
On Monday, the driver who hit Gabrielle stopped about 200 feet from the accident scene, LeBrun said, adding that investigators are still interviewing witnesses and trying to determine the speed of the vehicle.
The speed limit along traffic-clogged Elmont Road is 30 mph. There are no crosswalk markings at the northern side of the intersection of Elmont Road and Village Avenue where Gabrielle crossed, but there is a crosswalk on the southern side.
LeBrun said police “intended to talk” to the school district about an open gate that allows students and others to enter the school grounds from the rear. The district said it would look into whether to lock the gate.
“No decisions are being made immediately, but the district will be having upcoming conversations to discuss the possibility of locking the gate behind Elmont Memorial High School, which is currently left unlocked,” Ralph Ferrie, superintendent of the Sewanhaka Central School District, said in a statement. Ferrie added that the school district is “extremely saddened” by Gabrielle’s death and had made grief counselors available to students and staff.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the student during this difficult time,” Ferrie said.
At afternoon dismissal time, police officers from the department’s nearby Fifth Precinct were posted at the site of the crash, acting as crossing guards for the throngs of students.
Philip Toussaint, 30, who lives nearby, said he was on his way to take a bus to his job in Queens when he heard the sound of the impact.
“It sounded even more brutal than a car hitting another car,” Toussaint said. “It was just so loud, and then I looked up and I actually saw the girl’s body flying in the air.”
Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) said speeding is an issue along that stretch of Elmont Road and he has requested that a crossing guard be permanently assigned to the intersection.
“I’m very, very saddened by what happened,” Solages said. “I’m going to work to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Rose said police told them the driver was “crying” and “distraught” but she said she didn’t have many other details about the crash, except the little that Courtney had relayed.
“She said her sister just flew like a toy,” Rose said.
The family rushed to the hospital Monday morning and prayed with their pastor, Rose said.
“She was taken too soon,” said Rose, who shed tears and recalled her enthusiastic young niece. “I can’t comprehend it. I cannot comprehend it. No words, no words to describe what’s happening right now in this family.”
Gabrielle and her sister graduated last year from Dutch Broadway Elementary School, where the girls had attended school since the third grade when they moved from Brooklyn, Rose said.
Gabrielle’s parents, including her father Paul Johnson, are too grief-stricken to speak publicly, she said.
“I’m just trying to be strong for my sister and my family right now, but it’s just hard because you just don’t understand,” Rose said. “She was just walking to school.”