Milford police, DCF had prior contact with family of Derby kids killed in fiery crash

On March 19, six unaccompanied minors from that family were on the Hutchinson River Parkway headed home to Derby, when the SUV they were in hit a boulder and a tree, then burst into flames.

Marissa Alter

Apr 4, 2023, 11:31 PM

Updated 375 days ago

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Milford police had prior contact with the family of five children from Derby who died in a fiery crash in Scarsdale, New York last month. They also called in the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for the situation, according to a police report obtained by News 12.
On Aug. 16, police responded to the 1500 block of the Post Road after someone called concerned about a group of kids who were asking for food and money. The report said officers found four younger children and one older child in the parking lot of Wren Kitchens, where the oldest told them he and his siblings were raising money for his basketball team.
"All were carrying clip boards with flyers on it that read, Lynden Tigers Basketball at the top," the report noted.
Police said they contacted the kids' father, Anthony Billips Sr., who stated that he'd dropped them off there but was now on his way to New York and unable to get them.
“Mr. Billips stated the kids had planned on taking the bus home when they were done fundraising,” the report said. He also said the family lived in Waterbury and had just moved into a relative’s house. According to the report, police then called the children’s mother, Natazia Benjamin-Billips, who said she couldn’t come to Milford, and “she would send a lift for them.”
The report stated that police informed Benjamin-Billips they couldn't let the kids go without a parent. Instead, officers brought all five children to the police department until she could get there, and they also contacted the Milford DCF regional office. The report said a DCF worker spoke with the children and their mother when she arrived. It also noted, "A DCF referral was completed on scene and sent to the Waterbury office due to their current living situation." Police told Benjamin-Billips she was free to go, but that DCF would be contacting her for a follow-up, the report said.
On March 19, six unaccompanied minors from that family were on the Hutchinson River Parkway headed home to Derby, when the SUV they were in hit a boulder and a tree, then burst into flames. Anthony Billips Jr., 17, Malik Smith, 16, Zahnyiah Cross, 12, Shawnell Cross, 11, and Andrew Billips, 8, were killed.  A 9-year-old who was riding in the back of the SUV was the sole survivor. Abraham Billips managed to escape out the smashed back window, according to officials. Smith, who was driving, did not have a license or permit. The Westchester County Police Department is investigating the crash and previously said they’re looking at whether Smith fell asleep at the wheel or was distracted. The SUV had been rented by a family member, but law enforcement said they were looking into how Smith got access to it.
Officials also initially said the family had just moved to Derby from New York, which is why the children were not enrolled in Derby public schools. The Milford police report questions that.
As News 12 previously reported, the Office of the Child Advocate is investigating the circumstances that led to the children’s deaths and what state agencies were involved with the family. A few days after the crash, DCF confirmed they interviewed the children in February after a request from New York Protective Services regarding an alleged incident there. Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes released the following statement:
“This is an unspeakable tragedy, and our thoughts are with the family, friends, neighbors and others within the community who knew these children and are now grieving their loss and the trauma they experienced. We are currently reviewing our interactions with the involved families.
We can confirm that at the end of last month, we were asked by a neighboring state to perform a "courtesy visit" to interview the children based on an alleged incident that occurred in their jurisdiction.
Upon the request, and because the children were located in Connecticut at the time, we assisted and reported back to our colleagues accordingly. There was nothing learned in the interviews which warranted further Connecticut DCF involvement.
Our Department adheres to confidentiality under state statute 17a-28 and federal law and due to the pending investigation into this incident, we are unable to comment further on this matter."
DCF would not comment Tuesday on any prior interactions with the family, including when they were called by Milford police last summer, or current interactions. But Derby police confirmed to News 12 that DCF has requested their help with the family. Lt. Sal Frosceno said officers are working with DCF, but there is no open criminal investigation at this time. Frosceno couldn’t speak to the reason police were called in.


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