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Limo Crash Kills 20 in Upstate New York; Nation’s Deadliest Accident in 9 Years

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The 17 friends had all piled into a white stretch limousine for what was supposed to have been a birthday celebration at an upstate New York brewery. But they never reached their destination.

The massive vehicle, speeding downhill on Saturday, approached the intersection of two highways that residents had long warned was notoriously dangerous.

And in just a few seconds of terror, their worst fears were realized: The limousine lost control, careening through the intersection and striking an empty car.

The crash killed all 18 occupants of the limousine, including the driver, as well as two pedestrians, in an accident that left deep tire tracks in the ground and the small town about 40 miles west of Albany reeling.
Four sisters, two brothers and at least three young couples were among the dead.
“That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 miles per hour,” said Jessica Kirby, 36, the manager of the Apple Barrel Country Store, where she said customers were hit near the parking lot. “All fatal.”

“I don’t want to describe the scene,” she added. “It’s not something I want to think about.”

Federal investigators arrived on Sunday and were scouring the scene for clues about the cause of the crash. The New York State Police said autopsies were underway on all the passengers and the driver of the limousine, including toxicology, though they cautioned that the investigation was in its early stages.

Still, the loss of life stunned even seasoned investigators, who called it the nation’s deadliest transportation accident since a 2009 plane crash near Buffalo killed 50 people.

“Twenty fatalities is just horrific,” said Robert L. Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is launching a comprehensive investigation. “I’ve been on the board for 12 years and this is one of the biggest losses of life that we’ve seen in a long, long time.”

A day after the crash, remnants of the accident’s violence were readily visible, including a tire torn from the limousine that lay in the mud in the overgrown creek bed, below several trees that had presumably been sawed off to access the vehicle. What appeared to be debris from the car littered the scene: mirror fragments, taillight pieces, a hairbrush.

State Police said the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine barreled down one roadway and passed through the T-intersection where the two highways intersect without stopping, crashing into another vehicle, an unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander, before landing in a shallow ravine beyond the road. The two pedestrians were struck near the Apple Barrel and killed.

All those killed in the Schoharie crash were adults, the State Police said. They included at least two pairs of newlyweds and parents of young children, including a 16-month-old, as family and friends quickly created GoFundMe pages to cover future expenses.

Erin Flaherty, 26, was friends with many of the victims. “They were together multiple times a week, always hanging out,” said Ms. Flaherty, noting that the tight-knit group of mostly 30-somethings held frequent backyard parties.
Valerie Abeling, the aunt of Erin Vertucci, who died in the crash, said the limousine was headed toward a birthday party at a brewery in Cooperstown.

Lester Andrews, 60, of Rochester, said his two stepsons and a daughter-in-law were among the people killed in the limousine crash.

The brothers killed in the crash were Axel Steenburg, 29, and Rich Steenburg, 34, he said. Axel Steenburg’s wife, Amy, also died, he said, and had been celebrating her 30th birthday. Three of her sisters, Mary Dyson, Allison King and Abby Jackson, also were killed, relatives said.

Axel and Amy, who lived in Amsterdam, N.Y., and were married over the summer, had rented the limousine, he said. Rich Steenburg leaves behind two children, a 10-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old stepson, a relative said. Rich Steenburg’s wife was not feeling well on Saturday, and was not in the limousine.

Mr. Andrews said even the deceased passengers’ closest relatives were still awaiting information.

“Their mother is looking for some answers,” he said. “She wants to know what happened to her sons.”

In an afternoon news conference outside Albany, the State Police offered few details about the accident, though Christopher Fiore, first deputy superintendent of the State Police, said that the limousine had been licensed in New York. Its driver was required to wear a seatbelt; its passengers in the back were not, he said. Only one person inside the limousine apparently survived the initial impact; that person later died after being flown in a helicopter to an Albany hospital.

Stretch limousines are modified after manufacturing and are generally not subject to the same safety regulations that are imposed on the protective structures for passenger cars. Such oversized vehicles have been involved in tragic accidents in New York before: In 2015, a limo carrying a bridal party of eight women crashed with a pickup truck in Cutchogue, N.Y., killing four people.

State Police said they had no information about the deceased driver in Saturday’s crash, or about the company where the limousine — which resembles an elongated S.U.V. — was rented.

Alan Tavenner, the town supervisor of Schoharie, called the death toll “completely mind-boggling” in a town of 3,000.

“My heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

Mr. Tavenner said the site of the accident was a notoriously dangerous spot, a “nasty intersection” that transportation officials had tried to fix in the past without success. “I honestly think it was a more dangerous intersection than it was before,” he said.

The accident occurred just before 2 p.m. on Saturday at the intersection of State Route 30 and State Route 30A, according to the police. Route 30 leads steeply downhill to a T-intersection with Route 30A, marked only with a stop sign.

The State Police and the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Office responded to the accident; the flag at the local ambulance company was flying at half-staff on Sunday.
Ms. Kirby also said the intersection 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 accident came during one of the most popular periods of the year for tourists who flock to upstate New York for its scenic fall foliage and apple picking.

Columbus Day weekend tends to be the busiest weekend of the year for the Apple Barrel, Ms. Kirby said, and the store was packed. Most of her customers had arrived from New York City, New Jersey or Albany, she said.

“A lot of people from New York City come up and they do the country things, the apple picking and the sort,” she said.

Ms. Kirby said she was inside the store when she heard the loud bang. She rushed out and immediately called 911.

“We’ve heard accidents before,” she said. “You know that sound when it happens.”

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Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/nyregion/wedding-limo-crash-schoharie-ny.html

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Couple arrested in fatal 2016 attack on Long Island woman

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A former New York City correction officer and his 21-year-old girlfriend have been charged in the fatal beating of the woman’s mother on Long Island.

Nassau County police say 27-year-old Ralph Keppler and 21-year-old Francesca Kiel, both of Lynbrook, were arrested Sunday on murder charges.

Police say the victim, 56-year-old Theresa Kiel, was brutally attacked and struck in the face with a metal barbell at her apartment in Long Beach in December of 2016. She lost and eye and remained in a vegetative state until she died this Saturday.
Prosecutors had alleged the motive to be a business dispute.

Keppler had been charged back in January with attempted murder and assault and was out on bail. His lawyer says he’s innocent.

Information on Francesca Kiel’s lawyer wasn’t immediately available. Both Defendants were scheduled to be arraigned on Monday in First District Court in Hempstead.

Source: http://www.fox5ny.com/news/couple-arrested-in-2016-attack

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Woman Beaten in Subway Station by Man Yelling Racially Charged Words: Family, Police

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A woman was punched and stabbed when she got off the subway in Brooklyn by a man yelling racially charged words, her family and police said.

The victim, 57-year-old Ann Marie Washington, was hospitalized Sunday after having surgery for a collapsed lung due to the stabbing, her family told NBC 4 New York.

Washington, a mother of two, was on her way home from work Friday evening and had just stepped off the subway at the Church Avenue stop in Brooklyn when she was attacked, advocates said.

The man, who was white, punched her in the mouth and stabbed her in the chest while calling her a “black b—-,” advocates said. Washington, who is black, is a native of Trinidad.
The attacker fled on a Q train, police said. The victim said he appeared to be in his early 30s, about 5-feet, 3-inches tall, and wearing grey and black sweatpants and a black hooded sweatshirt.

Police didn’t initially call the attack a hate crime, leading to outrage from neighborhood advocates who held a news conference Sunday.

“If this was a white resident, a new gentrifier to this neighborhood, there would be swarms of cops here,” said Imani Henry of Equality for Flatbush. “But when it is a black person who is attacked by a white racist, there isn’t anything.”
Afterward, the NYPD said its Hate Crimes Taskforce would look into it. Police said they didn’t have all the details at the time the crime was reported.

Washington didn’t realize she had been stabbed until she got home, advocates said. Even then, she thought she had been scratched in the chest until she woke up the next morning, said Kenzia Bernard Nau, a witness and a neighborhood advocate.

Advocates said witnesses shot video and there should be surveillance video of the suspect, but police haven’t released it.
“The fact that the video isn’t out right now, this is completely insane,” Bernard Nau said. “This is going to keep happening.”

Source: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Woman-Beaten-in-Subway-Station-by-Man-Yelling-Racially-Charged-Words-Family-500238922.html

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It’s back: NYC’s rare Mandarin duck makes grand return to Central Park

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The Mandarin duck that has caused crowds of people from around the world to flock to Central Park has made its grand return after a brief disappearance.

The duck, native to Asia, was first spotted in the Central Park Pond at 60th Street and 5th Avenue on Oct. 10. Tourists and New Yorkers alike couldn’t resist the urge to see the bird for themselves and headed to the park in search of the rare bird.

After making appearances at multiple bodies of water in the area, some cried “fowl play” when the bird seemed to suddenly disappear earlier this week.

The NYC Parks Department released the following statement:

“While we are not tracking the Mandarin duck, we’ve noted that he’s appeared healthy and has regularly moved between water bodies in Central Park. We don’t know his exact location at this time. Almost all ducks migrate seasonally. While we’re happy to have had him visit our parks, it’s important to remember that at some point he may leave New York for warmer temperatures.”

As long as the duck doesn’t appear injured or in need of care, rangers will not make an attempt to capture it.

“While it’s exciting to spot such a rare bird in NYC’s backyard, like every other celebrity sighting, New Yorkers should know to give him space and not to disturb him,” Deputy Director of the Urban Park Rangers John McCoy said.

It remains a mystery how exactly the duck ended up in Central Park. There has been some speculation he may have formerly been a pet, but he has since effortlessly been adopted into the park’s urban flock.

By Thursday afternoon, social media was abuzz with the bird’s return to its home base in the park.

Source: https://abc7ny.com/pets-animals/its-back-mandarin-duck-makes-grand-return-to-central-park/4648131/

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