By Mark Hallum
A hero has emerged from the rubble of a tragic July 16 accident that killed a 16-year-old boy and injured several others on the Grand Central Parkway.
City Department of Correction Officer Keith Phillip was on his way to work on Rikers Island that Sunday morning when the southeast Queens resident came across the wreck near 188th Street. He quickly took action, utilizing his skills as a former emergency worker to help the survivors.
“I was going to work for my 8 o’clock tour,” Phillip said. “Right as I got onto the highway, I saw a massive pile-up. As I’m driving, I automatically pulled over without even hesitating and ran across the highway. I saw a lady in her Mercedes Benz flipped over on the driver’s side and she was banging on the rearview glass.”
Phillip said he dashed back across the highway, using hand gestures to control oncoming traffic, so that he could retrieve a tire iron and other supplies to free the 38-year-old woman through the sunroof of her car.
According to police, her Mercedes had flipped while swerving to avoid the vehicle allegedly responsible for the wreck, operated by a New Jersey man who slammed into a guardrail with a car-full of people returning from a wedding.
Andrew Shakespeare, 33, of Roselle, N.J. was the operator of a 2014 BMW X5 SUV, which police said was traveling westbound at approximately 76 miles per hour in a 50-mph zone, when the collision occurred around 6 a.m. The wreck killed Akeam Grant, 16, who was ejected from the vehicle, as well as a front seat passenger, 34-year-old Layon Cambell. The two people who died were from Brooklyn.
Shakespeare was charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.
After assisting the woman in the Mercedes, Phillip said he moved on to the next vehicle operated by Shakespeare.
“I immediately went over to the next car that was flipped over, upside down. It was in pretty bad shape. They had one dead body on the side, and it was about four feet away from me, and they had three guys trapped inside the vehicle,” Phillip said, taking a deep breath. “I wasn’t even thinking about anything but trying to help the guys.”
One other vehicle stopped to assist and they began pulling people from the vehicle. One of the men had a compound fracture on his ankle, Phillip said, and another lacked sensation in his back.
Phillip went back to attend to the badly shaken woman recovered from the Mercedes. She had wanted to get her phone from her vehicle to call her husband. Phillip insisted that she use his phone to avoid further danger.
“A wedding celebration ended in a horrific tragedy when one of the guests – the defendant – allegedly got behind the wheel of his vehicle, drove recklessly and at a high rate of speed on one of Queens County’s major highways before losing control and crashing into several vehicles and through a guardrail, resulting in the death of two of his five passengers – a 34-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy, who was ejected from the vehicle – and causing serious injury to three others,” DA Brown said.
Phillip continued on to work in his usual fashion after aiding the accident victims, arriving at Rikers 15 minutes early, while many of his colleagues were delayed by the accident.
The correction officer said his eight years working in the emergency room of a Brooklyn hospital helped prepare him to be fast on his feet and take the initiative at the scene.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall