Newlyweds, four sisters among 20 killed in limousine crash in worst transport accident in US since 2009
The crash unfolded at around 2 pm in the afternoon on Saturday and claimed the lives of all 18 people traveling in the limousine, as well as two pedestrians
Four sisters and their husbands were amongst the 20 people who died after the limousine carrying them to a surprise birthday party sped through a junction and plunged into a steep ditch. The driver along with two pedestrians were also killed.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Saturday's crash was the country's deadliest transport accident since a plane crash killed 50 people in 2009 in Buffalo.
The Daily Mail reported the names of the four sisters as Abigail Jackson, Mary Dyson, Allison King, and Amy Steenburg, with their husbands Adam Jackson, Robert Dyson, and Axel Steenburg also dying in the horrific crash which unfolded at the intersection of State Route 30 and State Route 30A in upstate New York at around 2 pm on Sunday. Also amongst the victims were newlyweds 34-year-old Erin McGowan and husband 30-year-old Shane McGowan, Erin's cousin Patrick Cushing, and US Army veteran Matthew Coons and girlfriend Savannah Devonne.
The sisters and their husbands, as well as the other people in the limo that consisted of a group of relatives, school, and neighborhood friends from the town of Amsterdam, were reportedly on their way to Amy's birthday party in Cooperstown when the vehicle failed to stop at the junction.
Presently, it is unclear whether the limo sped through because of a brake failure or because of an error by the driver — identified as 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia by his twin brother.
The news was made all the more tragic by revelations by family members who told the Washington Post that the group did not even plan on hiring the limousine, and had turned to it at the last moment after the bus they had rented broke down before it arrived.
As a replacement, the rental company then sent the 2001 Ford Excursion, which Erin had described in a last-minute text as being in a "terrible condition." Twenty minutes after that text had been sent, all 18 passengers in the vehicle were dead.
Speaking to the New York Post, the aunt of the deceased sisters, Barbara Douglas, described them as "beautiful girls, full of life" and said the family was devastated by the loss.
"One just got married and that's what this was: her new husband was giving her a surprise birthday party," she said. "They did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn't be driving. They had their whole lives ahead of them."
"My brother and his wife are just overwrought," she continued. "I don't know how to say it. Can't wrap your head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die."
Other relatives expressed similar sentiments. Anthony Vertucci, Erin's uncle, shared photos of her wedding day and wrote a tear-jerking tribute that read, "My heart has stopped. Unspeakable tragedy that I can't comprehend and will never come to terms with. I just wanted all of you to see pictures of Erin and Shane, these two beautiful and amazing people, on the best and happiest days of their lives."
A GoFundMe was set up for four-year-old Archer and 16-month-old Elle, the orphaned children of Abigail and Adam. A description read, "Adam and Abby were amazing parents to these girls and taken much too soon. While families will step in and provide loving care for these girls, there will be expenses that we can help with during this time when we otherwise feel so helpless." The campaign has already raised over $50,000 of its intended $75,000 target in one day.
According to local officials, the spot of the crash is prone to accidents, with improvements made by the State Department of Transportation — large trucks being banned from coming down the intersection recently — proving inadequate. The junction would prove fatal once again on Saturday, with witnesses saying the limo came over the hill at more than 60 miles per hour before crashing. Bystanders attempted to rescue the passengers from the 20 or 30-foot-deep ravine the car had fallen into, though it would ultimately prove futile.
The Mail reported that the Schoharie County Sheriff's Office, New York State Police, and emergency crews from the Red Cross all responded to the scene, with six ambulances, three fire companies, and two helicopters present at the scene as well. The National Transportation Safety Board also sent a "go-team," which is used to investigate major accidents, to the crash site from Washington D.C on Sunday morning.
In a breakdown of how the accident, New York State Police said that the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine traveled across the intersection after failing to stop and into the parking lot of a popular Apple Barrel County Store. Here, it hit an unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander, with two pedestrians standing nearby hit and killed.
In an interview with WTEN, Bridey Finnigan, who lives near the crash site, said, "I heard a loud bang, I came out my front door to see what was going on. I saw a lot of people here at the Apple Barrel out in the parking lot. Then I heard screaming. Then I saw this large van, a very unusual looking vehicle out here in Schoharie in the bushes and really wrecked, hit a tree."
New York governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement praising first responders and expressing solidarity with the victims' families. "I commend the first responders who arrived on the scene and worked through the night to help," he wrote. "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. I join all New Yorkers in mourning these deaths and share in the unspeakable sorrow experienced by their families."