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State Police: 20 dead in Schoharie limo crash - 18 in limo, 2 pedestrians

State Police: 20 dead in Schoharie limo crash - 18 in limo, 2 pedestrians

The crash is the deadliest transportation accident nationwide in nearly 10 years, NTSB says
State Police: 20 dead in Schoharie limo crash - 18 in limo, 2 pedestrians
Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, speaks Sunday about the accident
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/DAILY GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHOHARIE -- Twenty people were killed Saturday in a limousine crash in the town of Schoharie, state police said on Sunday.

Of those killed, 18 were in the limousine and two were pedestrians. Everyone inside the limousine was killed. All who died were adults, state police said.

The crash happened just before 2 p.m. Saturday when the limousine failed to stop at the intersection as it approached from Route 30, state police said. The limo then entered a parking lot across the intersection, hit an unoccupied vehicle and the two pedestrians, state police said.

The names of the victims were not released, pending notification of family, state police said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families following this horrific tragedy," state police first deputy superintendent Christopher Fiore said Sunday afternoon.

Among those killed was an employee of the Greater Amsterdam School District, the district confirmed on its site Sunday, without identifying the individual. 

Most of the victims were from the Amsterdam area, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara said on Twitter. 

State police have also set up a dedicated phone line to assist family members of the victims. Family members are encouraged to call 1-877-672-4911.

Press Conference

Members of the state police and National Transportation Safety Board held the press conference Sunday afternoon to update the investigation. Investigators from the NTSB have been at the crash site since Sunday morning. 

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt indicated at Sunday's press conference that the investigation will be led by an investigator with three decades of experience. The team also has investigators with expertise in multiple areas that will be focuses of the investigation, including crash reconstruction, vehicle condition and roadway factors, Sumwalt said.

"We cast a very broad net to see what's out there and then, in our analysis phase, is where we start winnowing it down," Sumwalt said.

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The NTSB's transportation disaster assistance coordinator team is also in the area to assist families, he said.

"Our mission is to point out not only what happened, but why it happened, so that we can keep things like this from happening in the future," Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt expected investigators to be on scene for five days gathering evidence and documenting the scene.

The cause of the incident would be determined at a later date, he said.

"Twenty fatalities -- it's just horrific," Sumwalt said. "I've been on the board for 12 years and this is one of the biggest losses of life, loss of lives, that we've seen in a long, long time."

The crash is the deadliest transportation accident the NTSB has investigated in nearly 10 years, since February 2009, Sumwalt said. 

Chaotic scene

At the scene Sunday, Schenectady resident Linda Riley said she was at the store when the crash happened. She had a difficult time recounting the incident to reporters Sunday. She said she was shopping with her sisters and heard the crash.

She recalled a chaotic scene with broken sticks everywhere and people running to see what happened. People were yelling to call 911 as they attempted to clear broken branches and sticks to get to the limo to see if they could help in any way, she said.

Riley said she saw one body laying near where she had parked.

The crash happened behind the Apple Barrel Country Store, which sits just off the intersection. 

Autopsies are expected to be conducted at Albany Medical Center, police said.

The investigation will include toxicology tests on the driver, Fiore said.

"We'll do a thorough investigation, including an autopsy of all the victims, and the driver, Fiore said when asked about toxicology on the driver.

Investigators are also looking into what was required of the driver as far as licensing for this particular vehicle.

Fiore declined to identify the name of the limousine company on Sunday. The vehicle was a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine.

Investigators have both witnesses to the crash and the evidence collected at the scene to determine how the crash happened, that the limo went through the intersection without stopping, Fiore said.

NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg told reporters Sunday afternoon that his crews were there to figure out what happened.

"There is not a hard and fast way that we look at these things," Lansberg said.

The NTSB investigators could be seen inspecting the area around the site, traversing the woods around it. 

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Information GraphicsMap: Kathryn Hume/The Daily Gazette

Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, visited with friends and 
family of the victims in the Amsterdam area Sunday.

"We've been in Amsterdam all day. It's a tragic, devastating event,
one of the most devastating events we've ever had to deal with in this
area. It is devastating the entire community," he said. "Most of the
victims were from the Amsterdam area. I know there were some
pedestrians involved as well. Right now the city is in mourning. It's
a tight-knit community."

The Red Cross and State Police arranged an area at Lynch Literacy
Academy, 55 Brandt Place, for families of victims to come for support
and grief counseling on Sunday. The area will open again Monday from 9
a.m. to 3 p.m.

A candlelight vigil for the families of the accident will be held on
the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge at 7 p.m.

State police investigators worked into the evening Saturday reconstructing the crash. By Sunday morning, the limousine had been pulled from the ravine. A muddy gash remained in the lawn, and broken and sawed tree branches remained in the ravine. The intersection had reopened to traffic.

The state police were assisted at the scene by the Schoharie County Sheriff's Office and numerous first-responders.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Sunday in the wake of the crash, saying his heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives.

"I commend the first responders who arrived on the scene and worked through the night to help," the governor's statement reads. "State police are working with federal and local authorities to investigate the crash, and I have directed State agencies to provide every resource necessary to aid in this investigation and determine what led to this tragedy.

"I join all New Yorkers in mourning these deaths and share in the unspeakable sorrow experienced by their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time," Cuomo's statement concluded.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones involved in this tragic accident," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said in a statement released Sunday. "Right now, with more questions than answers, it is critical for the NTSB to get to the bottom of how this happened. In 2015, I urged the NTSB to investigate a horrific accident on Long Island involving another stretch limo and urged the agency to continue investigating limo accidents nationwide, because we desperately need more data to prevent them and minimize their toll."

Gazette reporter Jason Subik contributed.

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