An accident before dawn on the Cross Bronx Expressway approaching the George Washington Bridge left three dead and five injured and snarled traffic for most of the morning.

Inspector Steve D'Ulisse of the New York Police Department said the 5:45 a.m. multi-vehicle crash began with an 18-wheeler's stopping in the middle lane of the highway side near Webster Avenue for what authorities say appeared to be routine traffic in the area. A Ford pickup truck stopped behind it, but a second 18-wheeler failed to stop, hitting the pickup and a Toyota Corolla, D'Ulisse said.

The Ford was pinned under the second tractor-trailer, and the Toyota was forced onto the median. There were five passengers in the Ford, three were dead at the scene and two were rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital in critical condition. One person from the Toyota was also sent to the hospital in critical condition, D'Ulisse said.

The driver of the first tractor-trailer was not injured. Both the driver and a passenger from the second truck were taken to St. Barnabas with non-life-threatening injuries, D'Ulisse said.

The accident is still under investigation, though alcohol-related causes have been ruled out.

The Memorial Day Weekend crash statistics have begun . . . . don't be a statistic.