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Victims in Niagara Falls border bridge crash identified as Western New York couple

In this photo taken from security video, a light colored vehicle, top left, travels toward the Rainbow Bridge customs plaza, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A vehicle exploded at a checkpoint on the American side of a U.S.-Canada bridge in Niagara Falls Wednesday, leaving two people dead and prompting the closing of four border crossings in the area, authorities said. (Customs Border Protection via AP)

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — The two people killed when their car crashed into a border checkpoint in Niagara Falls and exploded in a fiery wreck were identified Friday as a western New York husband and wife whose family owns a lumber business and several hardware stores in the Buffalo area.

The Niagara Falls Police Department named the couple as Kurt P. Villani and Monica Villani, both 53, of Grand Island, New York, a leafy Buffalo suburb close to the falls.

Online business records indicate the victims’ family owns Gui’s Lumber and seven Ace Hardware locations in western New York. A man who answered the phone Friday at a number listed for the business declined to comment.

Authorities have not yet released details on what exactly led to the couple's crash Wednesday at the Rainbow Bridge, where their car raced through an intersection, hit a low median and was launched through the air before slamming into a row of security booths and bursting into flames.

The wreck prompted widespread concern on both sides of the border, as video and images of what appeared to be the aftermath of an explosion began to circulate online and officials closed the bridge and three other crossings in the area. Authorities investigated for several hours before the FBI's Buffalo office said it found no signs the incident was a terror attack and turned the case over to local police as a traffic investigation.

The Niagara Falls Police Department has said the investigation will take time to complete given the complexity of the crash. The agency issued a statement Friday that named the victims but contained no other details.

"The City of Niagara Falls would like to extend our sincere condolences to the families as they deal with this tragedy," the statement read.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has described the crash as “surreal” and said the vehicle was “basically incinerated” with nothing left but the engine and a scattering of charred debris.

“You actually had to look at it and say, was this generated by AI?” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a news conference Wednesday. “Because it was so surreal to see. How high in the air this vehicle went, and then the crash, and the explosion, and the fire.”

The safety measures tied up traffic at a nearby airport in Buffalo and elsewhere on one of the busiest U.S. travel days of the year, ahead of the American Thanksgiving holiday. The bridges were later reopened.

About 6,000 vehicles cross the Rainbow Bridge each day, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. The short, steel bridge offers scenic views of the falls.

The Associated Press

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