The couple killed in the fiery crash on Rainbow Bridge on Wednesday have been identified as Kurt and Monica Villani. The Niagara Falls Police Department identified the couple on Friday, saying that both were 53 years old. The incident took place while the couple were headed to a KISS concert, sparking initial fears of a potential terror attack.
This led to the temporary shutdown of the border crossing for several hours. The exact cause of the accident remains unclear. The couple was in a Bentley driven by Kurt Villani at the time of the incident. Initial reports suggest that the car may have malfunctioned before getting airborne and then exploding.
Happy Couple Died Tragically
Although the crash initially raised concerns about a possible terror attack, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has since confirmed that there is no evidence to support such fears. Hochul referred to the victims, Kurt and Monica Villani, as "local individuals."
Kurt and Monica Villani were residents of Grand Island, New York, which is less than ten miles south of where the crash occurred. They have been married since May 1995.
The couple is survived by their two children, Kurt Jr. and Mia. In his youth, their son, Kurt Jr., showcased exceptional hockey talent and was part of the Buffalo Sabres' organization.
Authorities said that the couple was seen leaving the Seneca Niagara Casino near the border crossing prior to the accident.
On Thursday, residents of Grand Island paid tribute to the pair, acknowledging them as a benevolent and considerate couple.
"You know, just plowing everybody's driveway for the love of it, you know what I mean? Just always willing to help and lend a hand. Always. always, always. They were just so very, kind wonderful people," said resident Mary Meyer.
Chuck Meyer added: "Without ever being asked, they would just be giving and gifting, and that's the type of people we lost."
Respected and Loved Family
Kurt and his 26-year-old son, Kurt Jr., also made headlines in local news outlets in 2014 for distributing 250 turkeys on Thanksgiving, continuing a tradition started by Kurt M. Villani, the father.
The family operated Gui's Lumber, which had seven locations, including one in Niagara Falls, the site of Wednesday's tragic crash.
The business, launched by Kurt M. Villani in 1986, made headlines in 2015 when they were cleared of allegations of underpaying taxes after an extensive investigation by revenue authorities revealed they had, in fact, "overpaid" on some taxes.
This incident on Wednesday is not the first time that a tragic crash has resulted in the death of a Villani family member.
In July 1978, Kurt M. Villani's grandmother, Lorraine, lost her life after being flung from a boat navigating the Niagara River at 3 am. Kurt M. Villani and his wife, Gail Villani, were also present on the boat during the incident but escaped unharmed.
The collision happened when Lorraine Villani was operating the vessel and struck a bridge. The family later took legal action against the bridge construction company, successfully suing for $120,000 in 1984. The lawsuit contended that the bridge lacked proper illumination.
Online records indicate that the Villani family own various properties in the Grand Island area.