A beloved Utah grandma sacrificed her life to save her grandson, shielding the boy with her body during a horrific wreck on the rain-slicked Long Island Expressway early Saturday.
Suzanne Nicholson, 60, wrapped herself around the 11-year-old as their doomed taxi skidded through the darkness — and that’s how rescue workers found her after cutting through the twisted wreckage.
“I’m still stunned,” her husband Dewayne Nicholson told the Daily News from Utah. “I’m waiting for someone to wake me up from this bad dream.”
The deadly three-vehicle crash, which also killed the cab driver, ended a planned Big Apple dream vacation before it ever began.
Nicholson, of Ogden, Utah, arrived at JFK Airport with grandson Gabriel Larson just two hours before the fatal 12:30 a.m. crash, where a garbage truck plowed into the cab, which had also just crashed.
Nicholson had sent her husband a text message shortly after landing: “Terrible flight, but we’re here.” She sent one final message after getting inside the cab for the fateful trip.
The woman and the boy were headed to their hotel to meet with Nicholson’s best friend and her grandson. The week’s itinerary included planned stops at Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty and the American Museum of Natural History.
Both were instead rushed to Elmhurst General Hospital, where the heroic grandmother was pronounced dead and little Gabriel was in stable condition with an assortment of injuries.
The Larson boy was the only survivor inside the badly crushed cab, as driver Mohammed Hussain, 46, was also killed in the Elmhurst wreck.
First responders needed the Jaws of Life to hack their way inside to the three victims. Two cops on the scene told a family friend about Nicholson’s last-ditch effort to save the boy.
Gabriel was awake and responding to doctors, but unaware that his grandmother was dead. Suzanne Nicholson, the mother of three, had seven grandkids.
The New York trip was “going to be the most awesome thing on the face of the earth,” said Nicholson’s friend Irene Hacker, 59, of St. George, Utah. “We were going to be the coolest grandmothers.”
Hacker went to the hospital after police found her old ninth-grade pal’s cell phone. There were several unanswered incoming calls from Hacker, and police dialed her with the bad news.
“We have been here all night,” said Hacker, who broke the news to Nicholson’s husband of 37 years. “It was horrible.”
Hacker, who arrived a day earlier, said she knew something was wrong when her old friend stopped sending along travel updates.
“She texted, ‘We’re in the taxi, I will see you in a little while,’ ” Hacker recounted. “But she never came.”
Family members — including Gabriel’s mom and dad — were headed to New York, although an emotional Nicholson said he wouldn’t make the trip.
“I have arrangements to make here,” he said. “My wife loved New York. She was planning this for three months. She was really excited.”
Suzanne Nicholson traveled to New York once a year and wanted to share the experience with her grandson. The two flew out of Salt Lake City Friday evening.
The accident began when the taxi clipped the back end of a 1995 gray Porsche in the left lane of the highway on a rainy night, cops said.
The Porsche rolled over and landed on the driver’s side in the same lane, while the taxi flipped on its side and careened into the right lane.
The garbage truck then slammed directly into the cab with lethal impact. The truck driver was crying and shaking on the side of the expressway after the wreck, two officers told Hacker.
No charges were filed against the 61-year-old truck driver. Both he and the Porsche driver escaped injury.
Gabriel suffered broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, a punctured lung and a concussion, according to family and friends.
Despite the myriad injuries, the boy’s prognosis “was sounding pretty positive,” said Nicholson. “The last I heard he was stable, and my daughter’s on her way there now.”
The trip was planned as a reward for the boys’ academic achievement in a school competition called “Give Me Liberty.”
The two youngsters were honored for their knowledge of the Presidents, states, state capitals and the Gettysburg Address.
The cabbie’s family was also devastated by the deadly crash that left behind a widow with two young sons — one age 9, the other just 14 months old.
Hussain, an immigrant from Bangladesh with 20 years experience as a cabbie, was planning a Disney World trip for the family one day before his death.
“Life with him has been much better than anyone can say,” said his widow, Rohima Hussain. “I’m empty without him.”
Cousin Shirin Rashed said Hussain typically wouldn’t work if the weather was wet, but he was likely trying to make up for time lost at a Boston wedding last week.
“He hates rain,” said Rashed, 40, as the family gathered to mourn at the dead man’s Queens home. “He usually stays home on a rainy day.”