By Gabriella Borter and Rich McKay
NEWYORK (Reuters) – The limousine that crashed in upstate New York on Saturday, killing 20, failed inspection last month and its driver was not properly licensed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.
Saturday’s accident, which killed two pairs of newlyweds, four sisters from one family and two brothers from another, was the deadliest U.S. transport crash in nearly a decade, according to federal authorities.
The company that owned the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine was being sent a cease and desist order to halt operations until the crash is investigated, Cuomo said at New York City’s Columbus Day Parade on Monday.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Before the limousine crashed, on the way to a birthday party, one of the victims, Erin McGowan, texted a friend that the limousine was in bad condition and appeared to have motor trouble, the New York Times reported.
McGowan wrote, “The motor is making everyone deaf,” the Times said.
McGowan’s aunt Valerie Abeling told CNN her niece had texted her friend saying that the company had sent the stretch limousine to replace a vehicle that had broken down.
Robert Sumwalt, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said on Monday on CNN that the accident should be “a wake-up call” for limousine safety.
“Here we have 20 lives that have been lost tragically. We do need to learn from this,” Sumwalt said.
The NTSB, a federal agency, is investigating the crash and will look at the adequacy of regulations for limousines, whose passengers are not required to wear seat belts.
“I can tell you that wearing seat belts does save lives. Whether or not it would have made a difference here … remains to be seen,” Sumwalt said.
Sumwalt said most of the victims were found inside the vehicle following the crash and one or two victims may have been ejected. Investigators also plan to look into whether the design of the roadway was a factor in the crash.
Officials had not released the victims’ names as of early Monday, but some of the names and details were disclosed in media accounts from relatives and Go Fund Me pages.
Erin and Shane McGowan were just starting a life together after five months of marriage, the Times Union of Rochester, New York reported.
The McGowans were a part of a party of 17 young adults who climbed into the limo to celebrate their friend Amy Steenburg’s 30th birthday, the paper and other media reported.
They were headed to an upstate New York brewery, officials said, when the vehicle ran a stop sign at a highway intersection in Schoharie, New York, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Albany, police and the NTSB said.
It crashed into an unoccupied parked car and hit two pedestrians before coming to a rest in a shallow ravine, officials said. The driver, all 17 passengers and the two pedestrians died.
Sumwalt at news conference on Sunday said investigators would determine the cause of the crash at a later time.
Amy Steenburg was also a newlywed. She and her three sisters – Mary Dyson, Allison King and Abby Jackson – and her husband, Axel Steenburg, and his brother, Rich Steenburg, all died, relatives told the New York Times.
“I don’t know how you say it. You can’t wrap you head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die,” Barbara Douglas, the aunt of the sisters, told reporters at the scene.
NBC news reported that Mary Dyson’s husband, Rob Dyson, also died.
It was the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since a 2009 plane crash in Buffalo, New York, that killed 49 people, Sumwalt told a news conference on Sunday.
(Reporting by Rich McKay and Gabriella Borter; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot)