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Sisters, spouses, brothers killed in limo crash memorialized in Amsterdam

Sisters, spouses, brothers killed in limo crash memorialized in Amsterdam

Eight killed in limo crash memorialized
Sisters, spouses, brothers killed in limo crash memorialized in Amsterdam
A Marine walks past hundreds of mourners lining the sidewalk along Cornell Street in Amsterdam.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

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Former Amsterdam teacher Virginia Mee had three of the five King sisters in her class. They came in different years, but they all sat in the same spot in the room where she taught English.

"They were smack dab in the middle of the classroom," said Mee, who recently returned to Amsterdam after spending eight years in Las Vegas. "Bright little blonde, blue-eyed beauties. Very smart." 

Years later, the sisters remained integral to each other's lives, dancing late into the day at Amy’s summer wedding and setting off last Saturday to celebrate her 30th birthday. 

That birthday trip ended in tragedy when the limousine carrying 18 people crashed, killing all on board, as well as two pedestrians at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie.

Mee, speaking Friday outside a gathering to remember eight of those killed -- the King sisters among them -- lamented how quickly things can change.

"They were so vivacious," she said. "A week ago tonight (Friday), they were were all alive and planning their outing. And they're gone."

Mee was among hundreds of mourners from the greater Amsterdam community to attend Friday's memorial services. 

Similar events -- and funerals -- for the crash victims started Thursday and will continue into next week. Friday's calling hours -- for the four King sisters, their three husbands and a brother-in-law -- were held at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Amsterdam.

Friday's calling hours were for Adam and Abigail (King) Jackson, ages 34 and 35, respectively; Robert and Mary (King) Dyson, ages 34 and 33, respectively; Axel and Amy (King) Steenburg, both 29 and newlyweds; Allison King, 31; and Axel's brother Rich Steenburg Jr, 34.

The line of mourners and well-wishers stretched two blocks from the red-brick church. Waiting in line, mourners greeted and hugged one another and slowly inched toward the church entrance. Amsterdam police said the line started to form as early as 1 p.m., two hours before the calling hours started.

The surrounding neighborhood filled with cars and people walking toward the church; re-purposed school buses carried others from overflow parking lots. 

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Amsterdam police estimated about 1,000 people had paid their respects or were waiting to do so. And more people kept the line nearly as long as it was shortly after the calling hours began.

Inside the church, shrines of large photos, personal items, candles and flowers were arranged for each of those lost, mourners said.

The King sisters, Abigail, Mary, Amy and Allison, were all born in Plattsburgh to Linda and Thomas King, and they all graduated from Amsterdam High School. In addition to their parents, they were survived by two brothers and a sister.  

Axel was born one day short of his brother’s fifth birthday, and Rich, according to Axel’s obituary, called his younger brother his “birthday present.” 

Adam, who is survived by his mother, Beth Muldoon, and his father, Mark Jackson, was a lifelong Amsterdam resident and a deputy commissioner for the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

“He was unapologetically himself,” his family wrote in his obituary. “If you knew Adam, you knew he wore his shorts in the winter and his favorite sweatshirt far past its expiration date.” 

Adam and Abigail, the latter a reading teacher at Lynch Literacy Academy in the Greater Amsterdam School District, leave behind their two daughters, Archer and Elle.

“Adam’s love for Archer and Elle was bigger than the galaxy,” his obituary stated.

Susan Stewart, who now lives in Schenectady, watched Adam Jackson grow up alongside her own kids. On Friday, outside the calling hours, she recalled a picture of Adam holding her daughter up on his shoulders when they were kids; when they were younger, she said, she used to think how nice it would be if her daughter got together with Adam. 

“Maybe (she) will marry Adam; he’s such a great kid,” Stewart recalled thinking. “He loved sports, loved his girls, loved his wife.”

Karl Gustafson, of Canajoharie, worked with Adam Jackson at the Montgomery County office building.

"It was sad," Gustafson said. "Just seeing Adam's family really hit me hard."

Gustafson said Jackson loved wearing shorts. Jeans are allowed in county departments for Friday dress-down days, but the policy was changed today, to remember Jackson. 

"We were allowed to wear shorts today," Gustafson said. "We were allowed to dress down for him."

Those in the limousine, who had planned to visit Brewery Ommegang last Saturday to celebrate Amy’s upcoming birthday, have been described as extremely close and fun-loving. They celebrated Amy and Axel’s June 30 wedding at The Saratoga Winery on one of the hottest days of the year.

Kameryn Kozlowski, who works at The Saratoga Winery, helped set up the wedding. As she walked to get in line for calling hours, she said she remembered vividly the joy of that day. 

“Amy was running through the sprinklers in her wedding dress,” she said. “It was the happiest day of their lives. They planned it for two years, and everything was perfect.” 

Kozlowski said the sisters’ closeness was obvious. 

“She and her sisters didn’t get off the dance floor all night,” Kozlowski said.

When Axel’s family went to their home after the crash to pick up the couple’s dog, they found an unopened birthday card they think Axel snuck into the house as a birthday surprise. 

“Words could never describe their love for each other,” Axel’s family wrote in his obituary.

Robert Ashley, of Perth, knew Axel from the gym where they worked out together. 

“He was one of those guys who walked into a room and the room would come alive,” Ashley said. “Axel was the kind of guy you knew within a minute; he felt like a friend within a minute.”

Carol and Frank Natale, of Amsterdam, were neighbors of Axel and Amy and close acquaintances of the couple’s bridled English mastiff, Lady.

“They were hard-working, caring people -- very respectful,” she said. “They were just a lovely, lovely young couple.”

Mary and Robert Dyson lived in Watertown and are survived by their son, Isaac. Mary served in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of captain and serving in Iraq for a year, where she helped build schools. Robert was born in Geneva and is survived by his mother, a brother, a grandmother and others. He and Mary were “always wanting to show Isaac the world,” according to Robert’s obituary.

Allison King lived with her fiance, Brian VonSchenk, on a homestead in Galway, where they raised chickens and ducks, tended an organic garden and spent time with their two dogs, Bowie and Bear. 

Christopher Carpenter, who organized the a candlelight vigil at Amsterdam’s Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge on Monday night, an event that drew thousands of people, said Friday that he didn’t know all of the victims, but that he has heard in recent days from countless people whose lives were positively impacted by them.

“So many good people who touched so many lives, that did good things in their community, who treated people with respect and kindness,” Carpenter said, as he waited to pay his respects. 

Many people who left the church did not want to talk to reporters, but others spoke about friends and friendship.

Rotterdam's Peter Diana said he was there to support an acquaintance who was a close relative of the victims.

"If you have kids, it's hard to imagine really," he said. "How do you lose four daughters? The person I know is probably going to be the guardian for two small children. How do you explain this to a small child?"

Some people said they did not know what to say to grieving family members.

"It's hard to believe," said Rick Hartig, of Amsterdam. "I don't have any words."

"It's hard to say things to the family when something like this happens," added Greg Melita, who attended the calling hours with Hartig.

"It was a beautiful tribute," said McKinley Weidman, who taught with Abby Jackson at Lynch Literacy Academy. "She was fantastic -- the best. It's a huge loss.

Permanent memorial

As the crash victims are memorialized and laid to rest over the coming days, several Schoharie County residents, including the owners of the Apple Barrel Country Store, are formulating plans for a memorial monument somewhere in the community.

On Friday, they announced plans to for the non-profit Reflections Memorial Foundation to raise funds for the memorial. The officers are Jessica Kirby, president; Shirley Ball, vice-president; Lois Goblet, secretary; and Joshua Loden, secretary. An account for donations has been established at the Bank of Richmondville, and donations can be made at any bank branch or by mail to the Reflections Memorial Foundation, Bank of Richmondbille, PO Box 488, Schoharie NY 12157.

The organizers have retained certified public accountant Mary MacKrell and attorney Mike West, pro-bono, to establish the foundation.

Plans are described as "in their infancy," but a fundraising concert is planned for Nov. 3 at the Middleburgh Picnic Pavilion.

Daily Gazette reporters Jason Subik and Steve Williams contributed to this article.

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