Investigators are piecing together the details of a terrifying two-vehicle crash involving an SUV-style limousine and another unidentified vehicle that left 20 people dead in upstate New York.
The accident occurred on Saturday afternoon outside the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie, NY, a town of about 3,000 people that is popular with tourists in the fall season. Schoharie is located about 170 miles north of New York City.
According to news reports, 18 people died in the limousine, along with two bystanders. Witnesses told The New York Times that the limousine was traveling down a steep hill toward a notoriously dangerous T-intersection at about 60 miles per hour when the accident occurred.
The crash “sounded like an explosion,” a witness who was in her car at the store at the time told the Associated Press.
According to the Times, two of the victims who rented the limousine, Axel Steenburg and his wife Amy, from Amsterdam, NY, recently had been married over the summer. A family member said he did not know what the purpose of Saturday’s fatal trip was.
“There’s just a lot of confusion, so many people died,” he told the newspaper.
Times Albany bureau chief Jesse McKinley described the scene on Twitter: “At site, ground is littered with black plastic gloves from rescue workers and other detritus: fragments of a red tail light, a woman’s hair brush. A tire torn from the vehicle lay in the mud in the creek bed, below several trees whose limbs have been sawed off to access the limo.”
In a statement published by the Times Union, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he joined “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.”
On Facebook, the Apple Barrel Country Store said, “First, we want to thank all of the emergency services that responded. We are so thankful for all of you. Our hearts grieve for the victim’s families, our customers who tried to help, and our staff who did everything they could to comfort.”
The store opened on Sunday and said its staff and customers “could use your hugs.”
“We are doing our best to cope and grieve. We are a big family at the Apple Barrel, and part of the bigger family of Schoharie. We cope by being together. And that is why we are open,” a Facebook post said.
Accidents at the site are not uncommon. A store manager told the Times, “We’ve had three tractor-trailer type vehicles — they come down that hill too fast, they go through our parking lot and they end up in a field behind our business.”
According to the AP, authorities haven’t yet released the names of the victims or other details. A state police hotline was set up for family members seeking information, at 1-877-672-4911.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.