A van traveled for nearly an hour over busy New York City roads before its driver discovered the horrific cargo it had dragged almost 32km: the badly damaged body of a man who was plowed over by an SUV just before he got caught under the van.
Police said the gruesome episode was accidental and that they have no plans to charge the drivers at this time.
But that did not diminish the shock of seeing a dead man hooked under a van that had just traversed some of the busiest roads in the city. Police said the driver, Manuel Lituma Sanchez, had no idea he hit the victim until the end of his trip, when a bystander told him something was dragging under his van.
Investigators were working to identify the body, which was found largely intact but horribly battered. The man’s heels were shorn off and clothes and his skin partly worn off.
A business card, Western Union receipt and a broken iPhone were found in the man’s pockets, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
The man was first hit around 6:15am while apparently crossing against a stop light in the borough of Queens by the driver of a black Ford Expedition, Gustavo Acosta, who immediately called 911.
When police arrived, the victim was gone and no damage was found to the SUV.
Lituma Sanchez, who was about two vehicles behind, said he had noticed cars swerving but didn’t see the initial accident and assumed the drivers were simply avoiding a pothole.
He drove over the victim, who was facing up, and the man’s chest was hooked by a steel plate under the van known as the skid plate, used to protect the transmission and undercarriage.
“I didn’t feel anything and I didn’t hear anything,” Lituma Sanchez told reporters outside his Queens home. “I didn’t know what happened.”
It’s not clear whether the victim was alive at that point.
“The van comes and rides right over the body and as it goes by there’s no body there,” Browne said. “The body was basically fish-hooked by the plate.”
Lituma Sanchez stopped shortly after the accident to check his car, but noticed nothing and went on his way. The vehicle has a low ridge around the wheels for stepping inside, making it difficult to see under the van.
Lituma Sanchez drove from Queens to Brooklyn and ending up in Brighton Beach. On the residential streets he suspected something was wrong with his engine and stopped to check the oil.
He got back in and drove a few more blocks before a pedestrian flagged him to say something was dragging under his van. Lituma Sanchez got out of his car again, looked underneath, discovered the body and called 911 from his cellphone.