The investigation of a car crash and explosion at a Niagara Falls, New York, border checkpoint on Wednesday – which killed the married couple inside the vehicle – is examining whether mechanical or medical issues were to blame, according to reports.
That detail surfaced as officials identified the Rainbow Bridge crash victims as Kurt P Villani and Monica Villani, both 53. The Villani family owns several hardware stores as well as a lumber business around the Buffalo, New York, region.
Robert Restaino, the Niagara Falls mayor, said the Villanis may have originally been heading to a Kiss concert in Canada which had been canceled hours before, according to the New York Times. The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, which is about one mile from the bridge, confirmed that the Villanis had been at the gambling facility for a few moments before their deadly crash, the newspaper said.
The wreck unfolded when the Villanis’ 2022 Bentley Flying Spur sped through an intersection at Rainbow Bridge, struck a low median and flew through the air. The luxury car careened into a line of security booths and burst into flames.
“They’re sifting through all the data right now and basically, the investigation has just started and it isn’t going to be concluded any time soon,” the Niagara Falls police superintendent John Faso was quoted by News 4 Buffalo as saying.
“They’ll look for mechanical issues, weather issues, whether this was a medical event.”
Faso also reportedly said: “We’re going to be looking at everything. Speed, mechanical issues, whatever information we can get from it.”
The fatal crash quickly spurred security concerns and political commentary on border safety. The US’s Lewiston, Whirlpool and Peace Bridge border crossings with Canada were closed due to fears of a potential terror threat.
Some preliminary media reports even claimed that there had been a terror attack that implemented explosives. But FBI officials have said there was no evidence of either explosives or a terror plot.
Federal authorities have since turned over the investigation to local police, who are treating it as a traffic accident.
Republican congressman Mike Kelly, from Pennsylvania, was among those responding heatedly to erroneous information on the crash relating to terrorism. Kelly posted that he had “warned about the surge of suspected terrorists entering through our northern border”.
New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, described the car as “basically incinerated” with little remaining except its engine and some burnt debris.
The local police department said that investigators were sifting through this debris in an effort to find the vehicle’s black box. The device could provide integral information in determining the cause of the wreck, but recovering it was difficult given the state of the scene, News 4 said.