Z a c Zack

Live Life Deliberately

Fiery car wreck at U.S.-Canada border prompts massive response

A speeding car that veered off the road, flew over a fence and crashed in a burning fireball at a security station on the U.S.-Canada border sent FBI agents scrambling Wednesday to determine the cause, but officials said there were no signs the fatal wreck was an act of terrorism.

Two people in the car died in the crash, which happened around midday at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Coming on America’s busiest travel day of the year, and at a time when security officials are increasingly worried about the possibility of a terrorist attack inspired by the conflict in the Middle East, the incident prompted a massive federal response.

In the immediate aftermath, four border crossings in the area were closed. Tougher security measures were implemented at the Buffalo airport, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said authorities were considering additional measures at all U.S.-Canada crossings.

Within a few hours, however, officials began lifting the restrictions, reassured that investigators had a clearer sense that while the vehicle careened out of control — flying over an eight-foot fence — there was no indication that terrorism was a possible motive for the driver, believed to be a local man who may have been at a casino earlier.

Officials said a Customs and Border Protection officer suffered minor injuries.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said that the preliminary investigation showed “no sign of terrorist involvement.” Federal officials from the Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security echoed that assessment.

At 9:40 p.m., the FBI’s Buffalo field office said it had concluded its investigation, found no explosives or connection to terrorism and was turning over the matter to the Niagara Falls Police Department “as a traffic investigation.”

On Nov. 22, a vehicle exploded near the Rainbow Bridge U.S.-Canada border crossing. (Video: @sal.alwishah/Instagram)

One eyewitness told local television station WGRZ that the car was speeding and swerving as it approached the border from the U.S. side. Shortly after it passed another car, it abruptly careened toward the U.S. security checkpoint.

“We could hardly see it, it was going that quick,” Mike Guenther said. “He was flying. … There was a car in front of him, he swerved out, went in front of the car, hit the fence, and went flying up in the air.”

Guenther said there was “a ball of fire, like 30, 40 feet high. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was really incredible.”

Canada’s minister of public safety, Dominic LeBlanc, said the country’s security agencies “are doing absolutely everything that Canadians would expect at this moment to ensure that the border crossings can operate safely.”

In recent weeks, FBI officials have said they have seen a significant increase in threat reporting, much of it in reaction to the violence in the Middle East, particularly the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel and Israel’s extensive military strikes in Gaza.

From his restaurant Niagara Tandoori Hut, just a couple of blocks from toll gate for the Rainbow Bridge, Raghu Bhattarai said he heard a loud boom around the time of explosion. He described it as a “big sound.”

When he looked out the window, he saw smoke rising from the direction of the bridge.

Shortly after, police began arriving.

The Rainbow Bridge carried about 5,700 vehicles per day in October. But the explosion prompted officials to also close other, busier bridges into Canada for several hours Wednesday afternoon.

New York State Department of Transportation traffic cameras showed long lines of vehicles backed up on the approaches to the bridges. The other crossings reopened after 5 p.m.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport was closed to international flights, according to a Federal Aviation Administration bulletin, but the airport handles only limited traffic to Canada. In a statement, the airport said it had increased security but was “open and fully operational.”

The Transportation Security Administration said that going into the busy Thanksgiving travel period it had already been operating under a heightened level of security “as a result of world events and the current threat environment.”

Late Wednesday, Canadian student Harvis Zheng, 23, stood shivering outside the police checkpoint on the U.S. side of the border, staring at the blinking lights, unsure of when he’d be able to get back to school.

After a quick day trip to buy cheaper American gas, Zheng found his route home barricaded by a huge police presence.

As he waited, Zheng worried he might have to spend the night in a hotel or sleep in his car. “I have class tomorrow,” he said.

Rivera reported from Niagara Falls, N.Y. Ian Duncan contributed to this report.


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)