The limousine that crashed in upstate New York on Saturday, killing all 18 people inside and two pedestrians, had failed a state inspection and wasn’t supposed to be on the road, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Speaking Monday before New York City’s Columbus Day Parade, Cuomo added that the driver of the limousine didn’t have the proper type of license to operate the vehicle.
The governor said it is still unclear what caused the crash in Schoharie, a small town about 40 miles east of Albany. He said the state has also issued a cease-and-desist order to the limousine company to keep it from operating until state and federal investigators finish looking into the crash.
“The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road,” Cuomo said.
The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal body that investigates such incidents, was at the crash site on Monday.
The limousine was headed to a birthday party when it blew through a stop sign and slammed into a parked SUV at the Apple Barrel Country Store. Everyone in the car — including four sisters, other relatives, friends, a New York State Senate employee and the driver — was killed, along with two people outside the SUV.
The crash “sounded like an explosion,” said Linda Riley, of nearby Schenectady, who was on a shopping trip with her sisters. She had been in another car parked at the store, saw a body on the ground and heard people start screaming.
The store manager, Jessica Kirby, told The New York Times the limo was coming down a hill at “probably over 60 mph.” In an email to The Associated Press, she complained that the junction where the crash occurred is accident-prone.
It’s the deadliest transportation accident since February 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York, killing 50 people, according to National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt.
And it appears to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.
At a news conference Sunday, officials didn’t comment on the limo’s speed, or whether the limo occupants were wearing seatbelts. Authorities didn’t release the names of the victims or speculate on what caused the limo to run the stop sign. Autopsies were being conducted.
The vehicle was an after-market stretch limousine, according to an official briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and thus declined further identification.
Safety issues on such vehicles have arisen before, most notably after a wreck on Long Island in July 2015 in which four women on a winery tour were killed. They were in a Lincoln Town Car that had been cut apart and rebuilt in a stretch configuration to accommodate more passengers. The limousine was trying to make a U-turn and was struck by a pickup.
A grand jury found that vehicles converted into stretch limousines often don’t have safety measures including side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. That grand jury called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assemble a task force on limousine safety.
Limousines built in factories are already required to meet stringent safety regulations, but when cars are converted into limos, safety features are sometimes removed, leading to gaps in safety protocols, the grand jury wrote.