A NEWLYWED who died in a limo crash that killed 18 others sent a text message hinting she knew something was wrong.
EXCITED about a birthday celebration and wanting to do the right thing by not driving, 17 friends piled into a white stretch limousine for what was supposed to have been a fun party at a brewery in upstate New York. Tragically, they never made it.
The massive vehicle, speeding downhill, approached the intersection of two highways that residents had long warned was dangerous.
Within seconds, the limousine lost control, careening through the intersection and hitting an empty car.
Four sisters, two brothers and at least three young couples were among the dead. The limo driver also died along with two pedestrians.
One of the 20 victims involved in the crash told her cousin moments before the collision that the stretch limousine was in terrible condition, The Washington Post reported.
Erin McGowan, 34, who died along with her newlywed husband Shane, 30, had sent a text message to her cousin questioning the car’s condition roughly 20 minutes before the fatal crash, her aunt said.
Erin’s aunt, Valerie Abeling, told The Washington Post that her daughter received a text message saying that the limo appeared to be in a “terrible condition”.
“It’s tragic. Horrible. I can’t even begin to even explain …” Ms Abeling said in an interview. “Our lives have been changed forever.”
The McGowans were just starting a life together after getting married in June and were saving to buy a house.
Tragically, Erin’s text proved correct as reports emerged on Monday that the limo had recently failed a safety inspection and shouldn’t have been on the road, and the driver wasn’t properly licensed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
The state ordered the owner, Prestige Limousine, shut down while an investigation continues into what caused Saturday’s shocking accident in Schoharie, New York.
“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.”
Various US reports named the driver as 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, but police have yet to officially confirm this.
Amy Steenburg, whose birthday was cause for the celebration, and her three sisters have been identified as those among the dead. Their names were Abigail Jackson, Mary Dyson, Allison King and Amy. Their husbands also all died in the crash.
The women’s aunt, Barbara Douglas, told the New York Post they were “beautiful girls”.
“They were beautiful girls, full of life. They had their whole lives ahead of them,” she said.
“One of them had two children. One of them had one child.”
“They did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn’t have to drive anywhere,” Mrs Douglas added. She did not want to name them publicly but added: “They were wonderful girls.
“They’d 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, were victims. “She was a beautiful, sweet soul; he was, too, they were very sweet,” Abeling said. “They were two very young, beautiful people” who “had everything going for them.”
Mr Cuomo said he had “directed state agencies to provide every resource necessary to aid in this investigation and determine what led to this tragedy.”
Autopsies were being performed on the dead but authorities didn’t say whether the limo occupants were wearing seat belts, nor did they give any indication as to the speed of the car.
The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was travelling about 270 kilometres north of New York City when it failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection, police said. It went across the road and hit an unoccupied car parked at the Apple Barrel Country Store and two pedestrians.
The intersection had been redone in 2008 because of a fatal accident there, said Jessica Kirby, who is managing director of the Apple Barrel Country Store.
Since the reconstruction, three semi-trailers had reportedly run through the same stop sign that the limo went through, she said. Officials worked with the state to stop heavy trucks using the intersection, she said, but accidents had continued to happen.
The crash appeared to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident in the US since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.
And it is 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, which is investigating.
The Apple Barrel Country Store’s Facebook page reflected the concern around the accident in the tight-knit community.