Details surrounding the horrific limousine accident that killed 20 people in Schoharie on Saturday reveal that the vehicle never should have been on the road.
The close-knit group of 18 people who were in the SUV-style limo included four sisters, two brothers and several young couples. All but one of the 20 victims were killed instantly when the limo sped through a T-shaped intersection at the bottom of a hill and smashed into an unoccupied SUV, which then struck two pedestrians in the parking lot of the busy Apple Barrel Country Store. The final victim died a short time later at Albany Medical Center.
One of the people in the limo had been texting a friend on the drive to Brewery Ommegang in Middlefield that the sound of the engine was deafening. The 2001 Ford Excursion was found to have failed inspection last month, and the driver was not properly licensed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Monday. He directed that flags be flown at half-staff beginning Thursday until the dead are buried.
More than 1,000 people attended a vigil in an Amsterdam park to honor the victims Monday night, and a vigil at the Schoharie Central High School gym will be held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
The limousine company, Prestige Limousine, is based at the Crest Inn Suites & Cottages in Gansevoort. The owner of the company, Shahed Hussain, was reported by the New York Times to have the same name and address as that of a former informant for the F.B.I who has testified in two prominent terrorism cases. It is possible that his son runs the limo company, which has had several past problems with failed inspections.
It has also been reported that the group originally rented a party bus that broke down. A spokesperson for Ommegang confirmed that the group had a reservation for noon. The accident occurred just before 2 p.m.
“I’m honestly just so devastated to see their lives cut so short,” said Erin Solano, a friend of Savannah Bursese of Johnstown. Bursese graduated from Hartwick College in 2015 and was the youngest victim at 24 years old. Her boyfriend, Matthew Coons, 27, of Fultonville was also killed in the accident.
According to his Facebook page, Coons was an Army infantryman from 2008 to 2012 and worked as a certified personal trainer.
Solano was a Phi Sigma Phi sorority sister with Bursese and chose her as her “little” sister to care for and mentor.
“She was an amazing person, so positive...she was determined and goal-focused and had dreams of going to law school and becoming a lawyer. I’ve never seen someone more determined to succeed,” Solano said.
Bursese earned degrees in political science and business administration and was a member of the volleyball team at Hartwick. Solano said she was also an animal lover and fitness enthusiast.
A GoFundMe set up for Bursese’s family has collected over $11,000, and her sorority will host a fundraiser Wednesday night at Red’s Ale House, formerly Legends, where Bursese used to work, beginning at 10 p.m.
Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .