SCHOHARIE — Family, friends and first responders on Saturday attended the private unveiling of a permanent memorial for the 20 people killed in the Schoharie limousine crash last year.
The memorial was built near the place were the stretch limo, carrying 17 passengers on its way to a birthday party in Cooperstown, crashed through the intersection of routes 30 and 30A at high speed into the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, killing two pedestrians, before crashing into a ravine, killing everyone inside the vehicle.
Jill Perez, whose son Matthew Coons died in the crash, gave a speech on behalf of the victim’s families honoring the people who tried to save her son and the others killed.
“We want to thank the first responders. I cannot, we the families cannot, begin to imagine your memories of Oct. 6. What that date, what those words now mean to you. As a parent of a child who was lost to the unexplained and incomprehensible tragedy of that day, we can only express our gratitude for your attempts. Thank you for rushing to our children’s sides, in the hopes of saving them,” Perez said.
Donna Rivenburg, whose daughter Amanda Rivenburg was killed, gave a speech honoring the hard work of the Reflections Memorial Foundation board, which raised the money to build the permanent memorial. She thanked Board President Jessica Loden Kirby and the Loden family, owners of the Apple Barrel Country Store, who organized the foundation a few days after the crash, and have worked ceaselessly to build the memorial before the one-year anniversary. She talked about how the input of the families was used in the creation of the memorial.
“We have been asked, step by step, for our ideas and our approval of any plans proposed. We sat in the meetings, and we sat in fundraisers, all to honor the memories of our children and spouses, to create a beautiful place for reflection on fonder times and peace and love,” Rivenburg said.
The first part of the memorial is a “quote stone” block with this quote carved into it: “You left your footprints on the earth as a reminder you were here. We know you walk together and are forever near.”
The quote reflects an idea from Janet Steenburg, mother of two brothers killed in the crash — Axel and Richard — who came up with the idea of having concrete “stepping stones” with shoe imprints from the victims included as one of the elements in the permanent memorial. During the ceremony Saturday a single rose was placed on each of the 19 stones. Every stone includes a plaque with the victim’s name on it. The stones are arranged in a semi-circle, symbolizing the Iroquois concept of the Skydome.
The stones bear the names of the 17 passengers and two pedestrians killed during the crash: Axel J. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Richard M. Steenburg, 34, of Johnstown; Amy L. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Allison King, 31, of Ballston Spa; Mary E. Dyson, 33, of Watertown; Robert J. Dyson, 34, of Watertown; Abigail M. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Matthew W. Coons, 27, of Johnstown; Savannah D. Bursese, 24, of Johnstown; Patrick K. Cushing, 31, of Halfmoon; Amanda D. Halse, 26, of Halfmoon; Erin R. McGowan, 34, of Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, of Amsterdam; Amanda Rivenberg, 29, of Colonie; Adam G. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, of Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 33, of Johnstown; Brian Hough, 46, of Moravia, Cayuga County and James Schnurr, 70, of Kerhonkson, Ulster County.
One stone did not include a footprint or name plaque, but has the Reflections Memorial Foundation symbol carved into it. That circle is meant to symbolize all of the people affected by the crash, including the driver of the limo, Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George.
In the center of the memorial there are bricks carved with the names of the 17 agencies which responded to the crash, and a stone sculpture of flowers and the foundation symbol.
Jessica Kirby said the stone sculpture was created by local resident Rich McCormack, who also did the landscaping. The Reflections Memorial Foundation was able to raise about $50,000 since it was created a few days after the crash, she said. About $28,000 was spent on the memorial so far, but that doesn’t reflect the true cost of what has been built because a lot of labor and materials were donated. She said the foundation hopes to raise another $200,000 to pay for permanent light fixtures, benches, a parking lot and the ongoing upkeep of the memorial, which is built on land her family owns as part of the business property, but is being donated to the foundation.
“A lot of people questioned us, whether we were going to get this done within a year, and there were definitely times when board members questioned whether we would get it done in a year. I never doubted us, but it’s definitely been a huge group and community effort to get it done,” she said.
During the ceremony Saturday bagpipe music was played, as well as a guitar and singers. Religious leaders reflecting the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths all contributed to the ceremony, some with speeches, others with song.
Kirby, whose birthday was Saturday, told the people how the death of 20 people she never met has changed her life. She said she tries to live life to the fullest now in part because of the perspective granted to her by the terrible tragedy.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about those group of friends, especially now as I celebrate my own birthday, as they were celebrating Amy’s. I often think to myself that I could have been friends with them. I’m a parent, just like Abby, Adam, Rob and Mary. I’m a sibling like the King girls or the Steenburg boys, a spouse like Shane and Erin, and Abby and Adam, Rob and Mary, Amy and Axel, a cousin like Erin and Patrick, creative like Amanda, a volunteer like Rachel, a peaceful person like Amanda, an animal lover like Savannah and Matt, a child like all of them. We are all of them, and that’s why creating this memorial was so important,” she said.
The memorial opens for the public Sunday.
Kirby said those who wish to help the permanent memorial fund can mail donations to the Reflections Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 488, Schoharie, NY, 12157. Money can be donated through the website, reflectionsmemorialfoundation.org. She said the organization is also working on a way money can be donated through the foundation’s facebook.com page.