NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — The FBI has ended its investigation of a fiery car wreck that killed two people at a border checkpoint in Niagara Falls after finding no evidence that it was a terror attack, easing a period of high tensions as Americans headed into the Thanksgiving holiday.
The FBI’s decision late Wednesday came several hours after the vehicle raced through an intersection, hit a median and was launched through the air before slamming into a line of booths and exploding at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Local police are now handling the case as a traffic investigation.
“A search of the scene revealed no explosive materials, and no terrorism nexus was identified,” the FBI’s Buffalo office said in a statement. “The matter has been turned over to the Niagara Falls Police Department as a traffic investigation.”
The investigation has been taken over by the Niagara Falls Police Department’s Crash Management Unit, according to a news release from the city’s police department, which added “Due to the complexity of the incident, the investigation will take some time to complete.”
The two people who died were a husband and wife, according to a person briefed on the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information about the people who were killed. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the driver was a Western New York resident, but the identities of those in the car have not yet been released.
The crash prompted the closure of the Rainbow Bridge and three other bridges connecting western New York and Ontario, as federal officials swarmed the area, trying to figure out what led to the high-speed wreck. Both U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received briefings.
Hours later, officials sought to calm concerns on what is one the busiest travel days of the year.
“Based on what we know at this moment,” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a news conference, “there is no sign of terrorist activity in this crash.”
Hochul said the car was “basically incinerated” with nothing left but the engine and a scattering of charred debris, describing a video of the crash as “surreal.”
“You actually had to look at it and say, was this generated by AI?” she said at a news conference. “Because it was so surreal to see. How high in the air this vehicle went, and then the crash, and the explosion, and the fire.”
Later Wednesday night, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said investigators had found “no connection to any terrorist or criminal group. He added that there was no evidence of chemicals or substances used in explosives during investigators’ swabbing of the scene.
About 6,000 vehicles cross the Rainbow Bridge each day, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. The short, steel bridge offers scenic views of the falls.
Witness Rickie Wilson, a Niagara Falls tour guide, was by his parked car nearby and turned around when he saw something in the air.
“I first thought it was an airplane. It looked like slow motion,” he said. “I said, ‘My God, it’s a car. It’s a vehicle, and it’s flying through the air.’”