Authorities are shedding some light on the deadly limousine crash that occurred in Upstate New York on Saturday, resulting in 20 deaths.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is conducting its own investigation into the crash in Schoharie, said this has been the “most deadly transportation accident” in the U.S. since February 2009, when 50 people lost their lives during the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo.
On Sunday afternoon, the New York State Police held a press conference where they confirmed that “18 of the victims were in the limousine, including the driver,” and that “two pedestrians standing nearby were also struck and killed.” All of the victims were adults.
Local reports claimed a wedding party was inside the limousine at the time of the crash, the New York Times previously reported, but Valerie Abeling, the aunt of one of the limo victims, told the Associated Press that the vehicle was en route to a birthday celebration.
Abeling told the AP that two of the victims were newlyweds Erin Vertucci, 34, and Shane McGowan, 30.
“Our lives have been changed forever,” said Abeling, whose daughter was invited but unable to attend the party.
Lester Andrews, who lives nearby in Rochester, told the New York Times that two of his stepsons, Rich Steenburg, 34, and Axel Steenburg, 29, as well as Axel’s wife Amy, were riding in the limousine at the time of the crash and died.
While he said that Axel and Amy, who were married in June, had rented the limousine, he was not certain why they had done so.
“They rented the limo with some families and I don’t know exactly what they were doing,” Andrews told the newspaper. “There’s just a lot of confusion, so many people died.”
Rich is survived by a 10-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old stepson and his wife, who was not in the car because she wasn’t feeling well, a relative told the Times.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Sunday, sharing that his “heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives.”
“State police are working with federal and local authorities to investigate the crash, and I have directed State agencies to provide every resource necessary to aid in this investigation and determine what led to this tragedy,” he wrote. “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.”
Additionally, the New York State Police have created a phone line dedicated to assisting family members of the crash victims. Family members are encouraged to call 1-877-672-4911.
The crash, which involved two vehicles, occurred at approximately 1:55 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, according to police. Their preliminary investigation revealed that the accident occurred at the intersection of State Route 30 and State Route 30A.
All of the passengers inside the limousine had been killed in the crash, authorities stated later in the conference.
Though police said they were in the early stages of an investigation, authorities determined that the incident occurred after the limousine, a 2011 Ford Excursion, “failed to stop at the intersection of State Route 30A.” The limousine then “traveled across the intersection into a parking lot and struck a 2015 Toyota Highlander that was unoccupied and parked.”
The Highlander then struck and killed two pedestrians.
The New York State Police went on to state that the scene of the crash has been cleared “and the victims have been transported to Albany Medical Center where autopsies are now being conducted.”
While the police will not be releasing any information about the victims until all of the families have been notified, they did confirm that the license plate on the limousine was from the state of New York. All other information, such as where the limousine was coming from and where it was headed to, have yet to be announced.
Jessica Kirby, the manager of the Apple Barrel Country Store, told the Times that the crash occurred in the parking lot of the store, where multiple pedestrians were struck.
“That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 miles per hour,” she told the newspaper.
Addressing the crash in an emotional Facebook post on Saturday, the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe wrote, “As you may be aware, there was a horrific accident in front of our business today.”
“First, we want to thank all of the emergency services that responded. We are so thankful for all of you,” the store wrote, adding that they “will be open for business” on Sunday. Encouraging patrons to come by on Sunday, the store added, “we hope you will come and share your smiles, love, friendship and hugs with us.”
In response to the message, a woman commented that her family was “affected by three of the deaths” in the crash.