Funeral service held for eight killed in Schoharie crash

Family and friends mourn great loss during service Saturday in Amsterdam
Mourners embrace at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church on Cornell Street in Amsterdam Saturday.
Mourners embrace at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church on Cornell Street in Amsterdam Saturday.

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A mass of Christian burial was held Saturday at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in Amsterdam for eight of the people killed in the Schoharie limousine crash Oct. 6.

The mass, which packed the church with hundreds of mourners, celebrated the lives of Adam Jackson, Abigail M. Jackson, Allison A. King, Richard Steenburg Jr., Axel J. Steenburg, Amy L. Steenburg, Robert Joseph Dyson and Mary E. Dyson.

The funeral service began at 1 p.m., nearly seven days exactly from the hour of the crash, which left 20 dead, including four sisters, two brothers, two pairs of newlyweds and other married couples and very close friends, most of them from this city.

The homily for the mass was given by the Rev. O. Robert DeMartinis, who performed the wedding for Axel and Amy Steenburg on June 30. During Saturday’s service, he held up a hand-painted sign, that is still displayed inside St. Stephen’s Church in  Hagaman where the wedding took place.

The sign reads, “Please no pictures, we suggest you live in the moment.”

“I kept saying to myself, someday they are going to come back and take it home with them,” DeMartinis said. “I was sure they would want to keep it. Then a day came. And a month came, and a month came. And they never came to get it.

“And then, when I heard that the terrible accident had occurred, I immediately thought of this sign,” DeMartinis continued. “It was part of God’s divine providence. His divine plan.”

DeMartinis told the many family members, friends and community members that despite their pain and loss they must find a way to live in the moment.

“You and I cannot stay in October the sixth,” DeMartinis said. “You and I must move on. As difficult as it may seem, we must live in the present moment because that is what they would want us to do.”

The service, which lasted a little more than 60 minutes, included a welcoming speech by certified funeral service practitioner Peter J. Rose, and readings from the Bible by Rev. Mark Gillen, Vincent J. Rossi and Deacon Michael Ryba.

Rose, his voice quavering with emotion, thanked the many people who have shown support for the Jackson, King, Steenburg and Dyson families, as well as for the others killed in the tragedy.

“Words seem so insignificant this week,” Rose said. “It was one week ago that our lives, our community changed forever. Thankfully, I am reminded that our actions are greater than our words ever will be.

“We received calls from all over this country, lending support, help,” Rose continued. “Yesterday, 20 of my best friends and colleagues from across this state arrived here to help us, ranging from New York City to [Alexandria] Bay. No one asked for help, they just gave us help.”

Gillen offered a reading from the Book of Job, which he said has offered philosophical vindication for the justice of God in the light of humanity’s suffering for thousands of years. Gillen said he was youth pastor during the teenage years of Michael Ukaj, who was killed in the crash. Gillen said Ukaj was almost killed during his military service in Iraq.

“God saved his life there, so he could live for this,” Gillen said. “He hid under a table during a shelling, a bombing — his parents told me the story.

“Everybody loved him who knew him,” Gillen continued. “His parents lived in Maine, so they were a long ways away, and when they moved a lot of the family moved with them. His family was truly those people in that car. They did everything together. They shot guns together. They had bonfires together. They went on vacations together.”

Gillen said Ukaj’s viewing will be at AG Cole Funeral Home in Johnstown on Tuesday, with the funeral service at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, with internment at the National Cemetery in Saratoga Springs at 2 p.m.

The funeral service for Matthew William Coons, another of the people killed in the crash, was also held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District. The arrangements for the funeral were made under the care of the Ehle and Barnett Funeral Home of Johnstown.

The Betz, Rossi & Bellinger Family Funeral Home conducted the funeral for the Jacksons, Steenburgs, Dysons and Allison King.

During the service, DeMartinis spoke of how the group of friends had planned to celebrate a birthday party on Saturday. He said he believes the party was celebrated.

“They celebrated it,” DeMartinis said. “That’s not a myth and that’s not a fairy tale. There is eating and there is drinking in the kingdom. When I say that, they say, ‘Father Robert, you’re two french fries short of a happy meal.’

“But I can prove it through the scripture,” DeMartinis continued. “After the last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I shall not eat nor shall I drink, until I eat and drink with you anew in the kingdom.’ Don’t you see, there is eating and drinking in the kingdom of God. So even though they were taken from us so suddenly, so tragically and so unexpectedly, on their way to a happy occasion – I can promise you and guarantee you that with the Lord Jesus they had a celebration.”

DeMartinis said during the wedding of Axel and Amy, Amy had asked him to ensure he included some jokes during the service. So, he included some more jokes Saturday, and a humorous story to remind the mourners of the importance of laughter.

“I tried to calm them down with a little bit of humor,” DeMartinis said. “I said to Axel, ‘Axel, I always give the groom the opportunity to call it quits, if they want.’ 

“‘There’s an exit there, there’s an exit there, and then there’s an exit over there and I’ll even show you a shortcut, if you want,’” said DeMartinis, recalling the episode. “Axel looked at me and said, ‘Father, you can lock the doors and close the windows, because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I’m doing the right thing.’

“But then, Adam turned to me,” said DeMartinis, noting the easy manner and humor that the groomsmen had. “‘Yeah, but you better leave the church windows open.'”

The service concluded with the signing of the Book of Remembrance.

“We speak of the names of Abigail, Adam, Mary, Robert, Allison, Amy, Axel and Richard, in this place, from the heart, before the assembly of God’s people,” DeMartinis said.  

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