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Families of 20 people killed in limousine crash left reeling

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Families of 20 people killed in limousine crash left reeling

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At first, when Karina Halse's sister stopped responding to her text messages on Saturday, she didn't think much of it.

Halse knew her sister Amanda Halse, 26, was taking a limousine to breweries with a group of friends. But when Halse saw on the news that multiple people had died in a crash involving a limo, she began to get nervous.

"I felt it in my gut that she was gone," Karina Halse said on Monday, two days after the crash that killed her sister and 19 others, including two pedestrians in Schoharie, New York. Karina Halse said in the days after her sister's death she and her family have been, "devastated. Heartbroken."

"We just got each other on a more personal level than I've ever had with anyone else, and she was just probably my best friend I've ever had in my entire life," Halse, 21, said about Amanda, who she described as charismatic and spontaneous.

The accident that killed Amanda Halse, killed married couples Amy and Axel Steenburg, Abigail and Adam Jackson, Mary and Rob Dyson and Erin and Shane McGowen. Also dead in the crash were Allison King, Matthew Coons and Patrick Cushing, 31. NBC News could not immediately identify the other passengers on board the limo or how they knew each other.

Barbara Douglas confirmed to NBC News four of her nieces, sisters Steenburg, Jackson, Dyson and King died in the limo, which had been hired as part of a birthday celebration. Douglas said their family was left overwhelmed by the loss.

"My brother and his wife are just overwrought," she said. "I don't know how to say it. Can't wrap your head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die."

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed the limousine involved in the crash had failed an inspection by the New York State Department of Transportation last month, and the driver of the limo, identified by multiple law enforcement officials as Scott Lisnicchia, 53, was not properly licensed to drive the vehicle.

A spokesperson for Prestige Limousine, which operated the vehicle in question, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Cuomo's statement.

Earlier, a company spokesperson told NBC's "Today" that they are "devastated by this loss," but declined to comment further because their owner is out of the country.

Hans Pennink
A New York state trooper and members of the National Transportation Safety Board view the scene of Saturday\'s fatal crash in Schoharie, N.Y..Hans Pennink

"I've been on the board for 12 years and this is one of the biggest losses of life that we've seen in a long, long time," National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the news conference on Sunday.

The accident occurred Saturday afternoon when the driver failed to stop at an intersection in Schoharie, New York, and careened into a parking lot before it crashed into an unoccupied SUV, according to police.

That SUV struck two pedestrians, who were also killed, outside of the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe in Schoharie, New York, according to police.

Deanna Ketzer, 23, of New Lebanon, New York, was in the Apple Barrel with her parents and husband when she said a woman ran inside, shouting that an accident had occurred.

"My parents went outside to try to look, and someone pushed them away telling them that this was, 'something that no one wants to see,'" Ketzer told NBC News in a Facebook message.

Ketzer said as she was leaving someone warned her that a body was splayed on the pavement. A large number of emergency responders had begun arriving on the scene, closing off the road as she left, she said.

"I still can't believe it, I feel so sad for the families and friends of the victims, and at the same time it's a miracle that my family and I were alright," Ketzer said.

As Ketzer left the scene, emergency responders began working to rescue the victims.

Karina Halse said Amanda was airlifted to Albany Medical Center before she died.

But the fact her sister fought until the end was not a surprise to Karina Halse, who described Amanda Halse as "strong-headed."

"She was really stubborn," Karina Halse said. "Unfortunately, she didn't make it, but as soon as I heard she was the one transported I was like, 'that's my sister.'"