Schoharie crash kills 20 Saturday

Associated PressRecovery crews remove debris from the scene of a fatal crash Sunday, where a limousine crashed into a parked and unoccupied SUV killing 20 people at an intersection Saturday in Schoharie.

A limousine crash in the town of Schoharie took the lives of 20 people Saturday in the deadliest accident the nation has seen in nine years.

A Ford Excursion limo traveling southwest on state Route 30 lost control down the hill intersecting with state Route 30A shortly before 2 p.m., careening past the stop sign and hitting an unoccupied Toyota Highlander. The Highlander then struck and killed two pedestrians in the busy parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store.

All 18 of the adults in the limousine were killed, according to State Police.

Police did not release the names of the victims Sunday as autopsies were conducted and relatives notified. They also did not say where the limo had been traveling at the time of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the road conditions at the time of the accident and whether any mechanical issues were present in the limo.

Early news reports said that the party was going to a wedding, but Schoharie Town Supervisor Alan Tavenner said he heard the group was on the way to a birthday party. The Associated Press confirmed the birthday party destination Sunday, saying it was going to be held at a local brewery.

The intersection has long been considered dangerous, Tavenner said, as tractor-trailers have come barreling down the hill and ended up in the parking lot of the store. Ten years ago the state Department of Transportation opened the intersection slightly to try to make it safer, but residents weren’t satisfied with the results, he said. Tractor-trailers were banned on the section of state Route 30 two years ago.

“I think they probably should have aligned the whole intersection coming down the hill differently,” Tavenner said. “It’s just horrific — 20 people, that just doesn’t happen anymore.”

Numerous personnel from the State Police, Schoharie County Sheriff’s Office, and fire and EMS agencies responded to the scene.

The crash occurred during the city’s “Old Stone Fort” weekend, the biggest tourism day of the year for the small town.

The victims, all adults, included at least two pairs of newlyweds and the parents of young children, including a 16-month-old. GoFundMe pages have been set up for the families of some victims, including a couple from Delmar. The New York Times has also identified brothers Rich and Axel Steenburg and Axel’s wife Amy, of Amsterdam, as victims. The Steenburgs were married this summer.

“My heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

Sunday, Cuomo told the Associated Press he did not think the limousine company, Prestige Limousine, should have had that limo on the road, as he said it had failed an inspection and the driver did not have the correct license to be driving it.

“In my opinion, the owner of this company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road,” the governor said while attending a Columbus Day Parade in New York City. “Prestige has a lot of questions to answer.”

Investigators were conducting autopsies, including on the driver, to see if drugs or alcohol were factors.

A call to Prestige Limousine’s office in Gansevoort by the Associated Press went unanswered Sunday. Federal records show the company has undergone five inspections in the past two years and had four vehicles pulled from service.

The wreck killed two pedestrians and all 18 people in the limousine, including four sisters who were headed with friends and relatives to a brewery for a party for one of the sisters.

The four sisters’ aunt, Barbara Douglas, said they had felt “they did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn’t have to drive anywhere.”

“My heart is sunken. It’s in a place where I’ve never felt this type of pain before,” said Karina Halse, whose 26-year-old sister Amanda was one of the victims.

The crash appeared to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident in the U.S. since a bus full of Texas nursing home patients fleeing 2005’s Hurricane Rita caught fire, killing 23. Saturday’s wreck was the nation’s deadliest transportation accident of any kind since a 2009 plane crash near Buffalo, killed 50 people.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221. Follow her at @DS_ErinJ on Twitter.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.