On Friday there will be seven caskets at the altar of St. Raymond’s Church for the funeral Mass for the very young and very elderly and prime-of-life victims of the Bronx River Parkway crash, members of the Nunez and Rosario and Gonzalez families.
Dexter Gardiner said he plans to be among the throngs expected at the beautiful old church, where there has never been a funeral such as this will be.
But Gardiner himself has experienced such multiplied agony: his twin brother, Derrick, 6-year-old niece and two nephews were among six people killed in a car crash on the Bronx River Parkway, near the scene of Sunday’s tragedy, back on July 9, 2006.
“We buried three at one funeral in New York and three in Mississippi,” Gardiner, 46, recalled. “It’s a seminal moment . . . seeing all the caskets, it’s a horrible thing.
“They didn’t fix the highway (after the 2006 accident) . . . I can’t express in words, I’m getting choked up.”
When Gardiner heard about the latest crash, “all the memories came back, and I started feeling so sad for the family.”
He and his twin played college and street ball in the Bronx, coached two teams and were active in St. James Park, where they grew up.
When their mother and aunt died in 2006, the twins set up a community event in their honor that July, calling it the Gardiner Memorial Basketball Classic.
Derrick came up from Mississippi with a traveling team to play in the tournament. After it ended, he drove away in a car with six others, including his 6-year-old daughter and three nephews.
The day his brother died was, like the day of the latest crash, “a beautiful Sunday afternoon. They were driving southbound, and at a certain place they hydroplaned, went over the divider into oncoming traffic.”
Only one passenger survived.
Gardiner knew his brother would want him to continue to hold the tournament, so he did, honoring the deceased family members, channeling his grief into two days of positive energy from the kids.
He also set up the Gardiner Family Foundation, which awards scholarships to college-bound kids and helps families deal with tragic losses by assisting with burial costs and giving moral support.
He knows what the mourners will feel on Friday at St. Raymond’s at the funeral for Jacob Nunez, 84, his wife, Ana Julia, 80, their daughters Maria Gonzalez, 45 and Maria Rosario, 39, and granddaughters Jazlyn Gonzalez, 9, Naily Rosario, 7 and Marlyn Rosario, 3.
The Mass is expected to draw a bishop, and priests from three parishes where the families attended church and school and from Fordham University, where the mothers toiled as cleaners. Msgr. John Graham, pastor of St. Raymond’s, where Jazlyn was to receive First Holy Communion this Saturday and where she and her brothers attended parish schools, said the large church will not be able to fit the crowds expected….