Limo crash victim’s chilling final text
EXCITED about a birthday celebration and wanting to do the right thing by not driving, 17 friends piled into a white stretch limousine for what was supposed have been a fun party at a brewery in upstate New York. Tragically, they never made it.
The massive vehicle, speeding downhill, approached the intersection of two highways that residents had long warned was dangerous,The New York Times reported.
Within seconds, the limousine lost control, careening through the intersection and hitting an empty car.
Four sisters, two brothers and at least three young couples were among the dead. The limo driver also died along with two pedestrians.
One of the 20 victims involved in the crash told her cousin moments before the collision that the stretch limousine was in terrible condition, The Washington Post reported.
Erin McGowan, 34, who died along with her newlywed husband Shane, 30, had sent a text message to her cousin questioning the vehicle's condition roughly 20 minutes before the fatal crash, her aunt says.
Erin's aunt, Valerie Abeling, told The Washington Post that her daughter received a text message saying: "The vehicle appeared in terrible condition."
"It's tragic. Horrible. I can't even begin to even explain …" Ms Abeling said in an interview. "Our lives have been changed forever."
The McGowans were just starting a life together after getting married in June and were saving to buy a house.
Tragically, Amy Steenburg, whose birthday was cause for the celebration, and her three sisters have been identified as those among the dead. Their names were Abigail Jackson, Mary Dyson, Allison King and Amy. Their husbands also all died in the crash.
The women's aunt, Barbara Douglas, told the New York Post they were "beautiful girls".
"They were beautiful girls, full of life. They had their whole lives ahead of them," she said.
"One of them had two children. One of them had one child."
"They did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn't have to drive anywhere," Mrs Douglas added.
She did not want to name them publicly but added: "They were wonderful girls. They'd do anything for you and they were very close to each other and they loved their family."
Valerie Abeling, the aunt of victim Erin Vertucci, said her 34-year-old niece and her niece's new husband, 30-year-old Shane McGowan, were victims.
"She was a beautiful, sweet soul; he was, too, they were very sweet," Abeling said.
"They were two very young, beautiful people" who "had everything going for them."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying he has "directed state agencies to provide every resource necessary to aid in this investigation and determine what led to this tragedy."
Autopsies were being performed on the dead but authorities didn't say whether the limo occupants were wearing seat belts, nor did they give any indication as to the speed of the limo.
The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was travelling about 270 kilometres north of New York City when it failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection, police said. It went across the road and hit an unoccupied car parked at the Apple Barrel Country Store and two pedestrians.
The intersection had been redone in 2008 because of a fatal accident there, said Jessica Kirby, who is managing director of the store.
Since the reconstruction, three semi-trailers had reportedly run through the same stop sign that the limo went through, she said. Officials worked with the state to stop heavy trucks using the intersection, she said, but accidents had continued to happen.
The crash appeared to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident in the US since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.
And it is the deadliest transportation accident overall since February 2009, when a plane crash near Buffalo, New York, killed 50 people, said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating.
The Apple Barrel's Facebook page on Sunday reflected the concern around the accident in the tight-knit community.
Heavy ntsb presence here at site of accident in Schoharie pic.twitter.com/n7dhfU7NK7— Jesse McKinley (@jessemckinley) October 7, 2018
A hair brush and a fragment of tail light in the dirt at scene of a accident in Schoharie which killed 20. pic.twitter.com/ZTLlt8Mn7R— Jesse McKinley (@jessemckinley) October 7, 2018
On scene in Schoharie, scene of deadly limo accident which killed 20. You can see the muddy tracks of the vehicle and the impact spot in the woods beyond.... pic.twitter.com/z9MhdPUWgk— Jesse McKinley (@jessemckinley) October 7, 2018
"Yes, are open today. And could use your hugs," it read. "We are doing our best to cope and grieve. We are a big family at the Apple Barrel, and part of the bigger family of Schoharie. We cope by being together. And that is why we are open."
There were just 12 crashes involving large limos in the five years for which the agency has released statistics, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Twelve people were killed in limo crashes in that span, 2012 through 2016. Over the same period, 171,508 people were killed in 157,451 crashes involving all types of vehicles.
There was no information Sunday on the limousine, its origin or its integrity. But safety issues on such vehicles have arisen before, notably after a wreck on Long Island in July 2015 in which four women were killed.
They were in a sedan that had been cut apart and rebuilt in a stretch configuration to accommodate more passengers. The limousine was trying to make a U-turn and was struck by a truck.
A grand jury found that vehicles converted into stretch limousines often don't have safety measures including side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits.
That grand jury called on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to assemble a task force on limousine safety. Limousines built in factories are already required to meet stringent safety regulations, but when cars are converted into limos, safety features are sometimes removed, leading to gaps in safety protocols, the grand jury wrote.