Limo that crashed in New York, killing 20, was in bad condition: Victim's aunt

Flowers are left at the spotwhere a limousine crashed near the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie, New York, on Oct 7, 2018.
Flowers are left at the spotwhere a limousine crashed near the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie, New York, on Oct 7, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A victim of a limousine accident that killed 20 people in upstate New York texted a friend that the 17-year-old vehicle "wasn't in very good condition and sounded terrible" before it fatally crashed on the way to a birthday party, the victim's aunt told CNN on Monday (Oct 8).

Saturday's accident, which killed two pairs of newlyweds, four sisters from one family and two brothers from another, was the deadliest US transport crash in nearly a decade, according to federal authorities.

Valerie Abeling, the aunt of victim Erin McGowan, said on Monday that her niece had sent text messages to a friend expressing concern about the condition of the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine.

One of the messages said the Ford Excursion had replaced a vehicle that broke down.

The company that rented the limousine has not been identified.

Robert Sumwalt, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said on Monday on CNN the accident should be "a wake-up call" for limousine safety.

"Here we have 20 lives that have been lost tragically. We do need to learn from this," Sumwalt said.

 
 
 

The NTSB, a federal agency, is investigating the crash and will look at the adequacy of regulations for limousines, whose passengers are not required to wear seat belts.

"I can tell you that wearing seat belts does save lives. Whether or not it would have made a difference here ... remains to be seen," Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt added that most of the victims were found inside the vehicle following the crash and one or two victims may have been ejected. Investigators also plan to investigate if the design of the roadway was a factor in the crash.

Officials had not released the victims' names as of early Monday, but some of the names and details were disclosed in media accounts from relatives and Go Fund Me pages.

Erin and Shane McGowan were just starting a life together after five months of marriage, the Times Union of Rochester, New York reported.

The McGowans were a part of a party of 17 young adults who climbed into the limo to celebrate their friend Amy Steenburg's 30th birthday, the paper and other media reported.

They were headed to an upstate New York brewery, officials said, until the vehicle ran a stop sign at a highway intersection in Schoharie, New York, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Albany, police and the NTSB said.

It crashed into an unoccupied parked car and hit two pedestrians before coming to a rest in a shallow ravine, officials said. The limo driver, all 17 passengers and the two pedestrians died.

Sumwalt at a Sunday news conference said investigators would determine the cause of the crash at a later time.

Amy Steenburg was also a newlywed. She and her three sisters - Mary Dyson, Allison King and Abby Jackson - and her husband, Axel Steenburg, and his brother, Rich Steenburg, all died, relatives told The New York Times.

"I don't know how you say it. You can't wrap you head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die,"Barbara Douglas, the aunt of the sisters, told reporters at the scene.

NBC news reported that Mary Dyson's husband, Rob Dyson, also died.

It was the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since a 2009 plane crash in Buffalo, New York, that killed 49 people, Sumwalt told a news conference on Sunday.