Police said everyone inside the stretch limousine was killed in the crash. (AP: Tom Heffernan Sr.)
A limousine drove through a stop sign at the end of a highway and ploughed into an unoccupied vehicle in New York state, killing all 18 people in the limo and two pedestrians in the deadliest transportation accident in the United States in almost a decade.
- One witness said the crash ‘sounded like an explosion’
- Another witness said the car was speeding and the intersection was a known blackspot
- Local media reported the limo was on its way to a birthday party
The collision turned a relaxed Saturday afternoon into chaos in an upstate New York spot popular with tourists taking in the autumn foliage, with witnesses reporting bodies on the ground and broken tree limbs everywhere.
The aunt of one of the victims said the vehicle was carrying newlyweds and was on its way to a birthday celebration.
Valerie Abeling said “our lives have been changed forever” after newlyweds Erin Vertucci and Shane McGowan were killed.
She said Ms Vertucci was 34 and Mr McGowan was 30.
The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was traveling south-west on Route 30 in Schoharie, about 270 kilometres north of New York City around 2:00pm (local time) when it failed to stop at a T-intersection with state Route 30A, State Police First Deputy Superintendent Christopher Fiore said at a news conference.
It went across the road and hit an unoccupied vehicle parked at the Apple Barrel Country Store, killing the driver and 17 passengers, as well as two people outside the vehicle.
The crash “sounded like an explosion,” said Linda Riley, of nearby Schenectady, who was on a shopping trip with her sisters and had been in their parked car outside the store at the time.
When she got out of her vehicle, she saw a body on the ground and broken tree branches everywhere and people started screaming, she said.
The manager of the Apple Barrel Country Store, Jessica Kirby, told The New York Times the limo was coming down a hill at “probably over 60 miles per hour” (96 kilometres per hour).
In a Facebook post on Saturday, the store thanked emergency responders for their actions. The store posted on Sunday that it was open “and could use your hugs.”
Deputy Superintendent Fiore did not comment on speed, or whether the occupants of the vehicle had been wearing seat belts.
The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, said its chairman, Robert Sumwalt.
“This is one of the biggest losses of life that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said.
It was the deadliest transport crash since February 2009 when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York, killing 50 people.
On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that his “heart breaks for the 20 people who lost their lives in this horrific accident” and commended the first responders for their efforts.