20 killed after limo on way to birthday party crashes in New York
Twenty people were killed on Sunday (Oct 7) after a stretch limousine taking passengers to a surprise birthday party careened out of control in what investigators described as the most deadly transportation accident in the United States in nearly a decade.
All 18 occupants of the SUV-style stretch limo, including the driver, died along with two pedestrians in upstate New York, police deputy superintendent Christopher Fiore told a news conference.
Fiore said the 2001 Ford Excursion had failed to stop at an intersection and continued into a parking lot, ultimately crashing into a parked car. Investigators have not yet established if the victims were wearing seatbelts.
The victims included two pairs of newly weds, four sisters from one family and two brothers from another, the New York Times reported.
Early reports suggested the car had been taking the group to a wedding reception but relatives of the victims later told local media that the group had been travelling to a birthday party.
Officials had not released the victims' names as of early Monday, but some of the names and details were disclosed by media accounts from relatives and Go Fund Me pages on the Internet.
"Twenty fatalities is horrific ... This is one of the biggest losses of lives that we have seen in a long, long time," added National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Robert Sumwalt.
"This is the most deadly transportation accident in the country since February of 2009," he added - referring to the Colgan Air Flight crash from New Jersey to New York, which killed 49.
Pictures posted on Twitter by Jesse McKinley, the Albany bureau chief for the New York Times, showed a hair brush and a fragment of tail light in the grass at the side of the road, in the aftermath. Deep muddy tire tracks disappeared into woodland beyond.
The tragedy unfolded outside the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe in the town of Schoharie, southwest of the state capital Albany and a three-hour drive north of New York City.
"That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 mph ... I don't want to describe the scene. It's not something I want to think about," manager Jessica Kirby was quoted as saying.
The Columbus Day weekend is the busiest of the year for the store, Kirby told the paper, noting that it was full of customers from New York City, New Jersey and Albany at the time of the crash.
'I HEARD SOME SCREAMING'
"I heard some screaming. It looked serious because people were running back and forth," a witness identified as Bridey Finegan told local NBC affiliate WNYT.
Road accidents are the fourth leading cause of injury-related deaths in New York state, according to federal health statistics.
In 2014, the latest year with available figures, crashes on the state's highways resulted in US$808.1 million in hospitalization and emergency department charges, the Department of Health says on its website.
The Apple Barrel, a popular stop for tourists viewing fall foliage in the area, posted a message on its Facebook page lamenting the "horrific accident".
It said it would be open for business on Sunday and "hope you will come and share your smiles, love, friendship and hugs with us".
VICTIMS WERE ON WAY TO CELEBRATE FRIEND'S 30TH BIRTHDAY
The 17 friends were on their way to celebrate their friend Amy Steenburg's 30th birthday at a brewery in Cooperstown, Valerie Abeling, the aunt of Erin Vertucci who died in the crash, told the New York Times.
Among the other victims included Erin and Shane McGowan, who were just starting a life together after five months of marriage, the Times Union of Rochester, New York reported.
Amy Steenburg was also a newlywed. She and her three sisters - Mary Dyson, Allison King and Abby Jackson - and her husband Axel Steenburg and his brother, Rich Steenburg, all died, relatives told The New York Times.
Barbara Douglas, the aunt of the sisters, said the victims were smart, beautiful and lived life to the fullest.
"I don't know how you say it. You can't wrap you head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die," she told reporters at the scene.
NBC news reported that Mary Dyson's husband Rob Dyson also died.
Alan Tavenner, the town supervisor of Schoharie, called the death toll “completely mind-boggling” in a town of 3,000, the New York Times reported.
Mr Tavenner said the site of the accident was a notoriously dangerous spot, a “nasty intersection” that transportation officials had tried to fix in the past without success. “I honestly think it was a more dangerous intersection than it was before,” he said.