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.”
9-year-old genius to graduate university
(CNN) – A child prodigy from Belgium is on course to gain a bachelor’s degree at the tender age of 9.
Laurent Simons is studying electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) — a tough course even for students of an average graduate age.
Described by staff as “simply extraordinary,” Laurent is on course to finish his degree in December.
He then plans to embark on a PhD program in electrical engineering while also studying for a medicine degree, his father told CNN.
His parents, Lydia and Alexander Simons, said they thought Laurent’s grandparents were exaggerating when they said he had a gift, but his teachers soon concurred.
“They noticed something very special about Laurent,” said Lydia.
Laurent was given test after test as teachers tried to work out the extent of his talents. “They told us he is like a sponge,” said Alexander.
While Laurent comes from a family of doctors, his parents have so far not received any explanation as to why their child prodigy is capable of learning so quickly.
But Lydia has her own theory.
“I ate a lot of fish during the pregnancy,” she joked.
The TUE has allowed Laurent to complete his course faster than other students.
“That is not unusual,” said Sjoerd Hulshof, education director of the TUE bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, in a statement.
“Special students that have good reasons for doing so can arrange an adjusted schedule. In much the same way we help students who participate in top sport.”
Hulshof said Laurent is “simply extraordinary” and praised the youngster.
“Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,” he said. “Not only is he hyper intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.”
Laurent told CNN his favorite subject is electrical engineering and he’s also “going to study a bit of medicine.”
His progress has not gone unnoticed and he is already being sought out by prestigious universities around the world, although Laurent’s family wouldn’t be drawn on naming which of them he is considering for his PhD.
“The absorption of information is no problem for Laurent,” said his father.
“I think the focus will be on research and applying the knowledge to discover new things.”
While Laurent is evidently able to learn faster than most, his parents are being careful to let him enjoy himself too.
“We don’t want him to get too serious. He does whatever he likes,” said Alexander. “We need to find a balance between being a child and his talents.”
Laurent said he enjoys playing with his dog Sammy and playing on his phone, like many young people.
However, unlike most 9-year-olds, he has already worked out what he wants to do with his life: develop artificial organs.
In the meantime, Laurent has to finish his bachelor’s degree and choose which academic institution will play host to the next stage in his remarkable journey.
Before that, he plans on taking a vacation to Japan for an undoubtedly well-deserved break.
New award to honor arts and activism named after Lena Horne
Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem
Two gangbangers aimed their BMW like a missile at a father and his 8-year-old son on a Harlem sidewalk in a horrifying incident captured by video distributed by police Thursday.
The BMW — driven by a man police believe is a member of the Gorilla Stone Bloods Gang — was zeroed in on the father, a rival gang member, said cops.
Around 3:45 p.m. Nov. 6, the boy and his father were walking on W. 112th St. by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. when the BMW jumped the sidewalk and slammed into them both, said cops.
🚨WANTED for ASSAULT: on 11/6 at approx 3:43 PM in front of 128 West 112th St in Manhattan, a 32 yr old male was walking with his 8 yr old son when a white BMW jumped the curb & hit the father & son. The driver then got out and slashed the father. Call @NYPDTips with any info. pic.twitter.com/cwd79rcM4c
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) November 15, 2019
Father and son were both knocked through a gate.
The BMW driver then backed up — and its driver and passenger, also believed to be a gang member, jumped out of the car and ran toward the father and the son.
One of the attackers slashed the father, identified by sources as 32-year-old Brian McIntosh, who’s served prison time for robbery and bail jumping.
McIntosh and his son went to Harlem Hospital. Miraculously, the boy escaped serious harm.
McIntosh was so adamant about refusing to help police catch his attackers that the young boy’s mother had to file a police report alleging he was the victim of a crime, police sources said.
Cops released video of the attack, and ask anyone with information about the suspects to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.
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