The driver of a supersized limousine involved in a crash that killed 20 people outside an upstate New York country store wasn’t properly licensed, and the limo failed a state safety inspection just last month and shouldn’t have been on the road, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
The state ordered the owner, Prestige Limousine, shut down while an investigation continues into what Saturday’s wreck in Schoharie.
“In my opinion, the owner of this company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road,” the governor said while attending a Columbus Day Parade in New York City. “Prestige has a lot of questions to answer.”
A call to the company’s office in Gansevoort rang unanswered Monday. Federal records show the company has undergone five inspections and had four vehicles pulled from service in the last two years.
The crash killed two pedestrians and 18 occupants of the limousine, which was headed to a birthday party. Among the victims were four sisters.
Authorities didn’t say whether the limo occupants were wearing seat belts, give the speed of the limo or speculate what caused the limo to run a stop sign at an intersection and slam into a parked SUV by the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe. Autopsies were being performed, including on the driver, to see if drugs were alcohol were a factor.
The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was traveling southwest on Route 30 in Schoharie, about 170 miles north of New York City when it failed to stop at a T-junction with state Route 30A, state police said. The limo went across the road and hit an unoccupied SUV parked at the Apple Barrel, a local institution and popular stop for autumn leaf-peepers. The impact killed two pedestrians standing nearby.
Relatives said the limousine was carrying four sisters and their friends to a 30th birthday celebration for the youngest.
“Can’t wrap your head around it, you just can’t,” their aunt, Barbara Douglas, told “CBS This Morning.” “They were wonderful girls. They would do anything for you and they were very close to each other and they loved their family.”
Valerie Abeling, the aunt of victim Erin Vertucci, said her 34-year-old niece and her niece’s new husband, 30-year-old Shane McGowan, were victims.
“She was a beautiful, sweet soul; he was, too, they were very sweet,” Abeling told The Associated Press. “They were two very young, beautiful people” who “had everything going for them.”
A vigil will be held Monday night in Amsterdam, where some victims lived. Grief counseling is being offered at the Amsterdam school district, where victim Abby Jackson taught.
The crash appeared to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident in the U.S. since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.
It also marks the deadliest transportation accident overall since February 2009, when a plane crash near Buffalo, New York, killed 50 people, said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). His agency is investigating the crash, including whether the limo had any mechanical problems.
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