What should have been a happy occasion has now been irrevocably marred with tragedy. On Saturday October 6, 2018, a group of 17 were en route to a 30th birthday celebration at a Cooperstown brewery when a tragic collision in Schoharie took the lives of the entire party, the limo driver, and two passersby.
The group had been traveling in a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine along State Route 30 in upstate New York, when just before 2pm, the limo failed to stop at the T-junction with State Route 30A, and crashed with an unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander at a parking lot for the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe.
Jessica Kirby, the manager at the store, told New York Times that the limo “was coming down that hill probably over 60 miles per hour.”
The crash also claimed the lives of two pedestrians struck by the limo as it careened into the parking lot. In total, 20 were confirmed dead, according to New York State police.
There is no information yet about the limousine. However, there have been issues surrounding limo safety in the past. Modifications to stretch limousines are made after manufacturing and they are typically not subject to the same safety regulations as passenger cars. In 2015, a limo crashed with a pick-up truck in Cutchogue, New York, tragically killing four women.
Schoharie town supervisor, Alan Tavenner, told New York Times that the site of the accident was a “nasty intersection” – one that was notoriously dangerous. While transportation officials tried to fix it in the past, they have not been successful.
Mrs. Kirby, the manager of the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe, also echoed Tavenner’s opinion of the intersection, claiming that it was dangerous. “We’ve had three tractor-trailer type vehicles – they come down that hill too fast, they go though our parking lot and they end up in a field behind our business,” she said.
The crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the board, calls the incident the deadliest transportation accident in 9 years. Sumwalt indicated that the investigation will be led by an investigator with more than 30 years of experience.
“We cast a very broad net to see what’s out there and then, in our analysis phase, is where we start winnowing it down,” he said in a press conference.
Like many others, we are horrified and greatly saddened by the incident. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and friends.
Our attorneys have seen firsthand the damage that serious car crashes can wreak on the lives of victims and their loved ones. From catastrophic injuries to tragic fatal crashes, violent car accidents destroy families and livelihoods.
According to State Police, the 20 killed were all adults, including two pairs of newlyweds.
Valerie Abeling, the aunt of one of the victims, told Associated Press that newlyweds Erin Vertucci and Shane McGowan were in the limo. They had been married in Amsterdam earlier this year.
“Our lives have been changed forever,” said Abeling.
Lester Andrews, who lives in Rochester, confirmed that his two stepsons Rich Steenburg, 34, and Axel Steenburg, 29, and his daughter-in-law, Axel’s wife Amy, were also killed in the crash.
As the cause of the accident is unclear, the National Transportation Safety Board team will have a team of experts reconstruct the crash and investigate factors that may have contributed to the accident, such as roadway condition and vehicle factors.
Additionally, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said that the state will “provide every resource necessary” for the investigation.
“My heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives in this horrific accident on Saturday in Schoharie,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “I join all New Yorkers in mourning these deaths and share in the unspeakable sorrow experienced by their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time.”