PLATTSBURGH — The limo driver who blew through a stop sign in Schoharie in the crash that killed 20 — including six with ties to the North Country — might have been lost when the accident occurred, a family member said Tuesday.
Barbara Douglas of Dannemora, who lost four of her nieces in the Saturday afternoon wreck at the intersection of Route 30 and Route 30A, said the birthday gathering the group was on their way to was in Cooperstown.
But the road they were on did not lead there, their aunt said.
“I don’t know what happened,” Douglas said. “I don’t think the driver was from around there. He might not have known his way. It just kind of baffles us why they were where they were.”
The limo flew through the intersection at about 60 miles per hour, according to witness accounts, and crashed into a parked car at Apple Barrel Country Store, killing the driver, 17 passengers and two pedestrians.
Douglas’s daughter, 39-year-old Lauren Lemos of Dannemora, had been invited to celebrate with her family and friends, but she couldn’t go.
“Thank God for that,” Douglas said Tuesday.
The revelers were celebrating Amy Steenburg’s upcoming birthday.
She would have been 30 on Wednesday, Douglas said.
Steenburg, of Amsterdam, and her husband, Axel, had just been married at the end of June; he also died in the crash.
Two of her sisters and their husbands — Abigail and Adam Jackson and Mary and Rob Dyson — were killed, too.
The fourth sister who died, Allison King, was engaged to be married, Douglas said, but her fiance was not in the limo.
The Jacksons left behind two daughters: 4-year-old Archer, who is a student in the Greater Amsterdam School District where Abigail taught, and 16-month-old Elle.
The Dysons had a 3-year-old son named Isaac.
AIR FORCE TRANSFER
The four girls grew up in Chazy Lake and moved downstate about 24 years ago, around six months after Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, when their father, Tom King, was transferred to Scotia.
He and their mother, Linda King, live in Amsterdam.
They have three other children: Jennifer Guerin, 48, of Chazy Lake; Christopher Schram, 44, of Massapequa; and Thomas A. King, 36, of Fultonville.
Amy graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a degree in psychology in 2011. She also played for three years on the Cardinals women's soccer team. She went on to study nursing in SUNY Albany, where she was still working toward her master’s degree.
Douglas said Amy worked for New York state “investigating the deaths of developmentally disabled people.”
She had recently been offered a job at Albany County Nursing Home, her aunt said.
Abigail, 35, of Amsterdam, graduated from SUNY Cortland and earned her master’s in education from SUNY Albany. She taught reading to special education students.
Mary, 34, of Watertown was a U.S. Army veteran who toured Iraq. She was a member of the ROTC program at Clarkson University. She and her husband worked as engineers. Mary was also an instructor at a gym.
Allison, 31, of Gallaway, graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2010 with a degree in speech communications. She worked for Hill & Markes Inc.
“Every encounter with those girls was the best because they were the best,” Douglas said.
“They loved life. They loved to laugh.
“There was a running joke between the four of us that Mary was my favorite.
“Then the others would do something, and they would say, ‘Now I’m going to be Aunt Barb’s favorite. Mary, you’re not going to be her favorite anymore.’
“But I loved them all equally.
“They were just carefree, loving girls who always had fun. Anyone who knew them would tell you they were the best.
“I can’t think of a single moment when they had any kind of outburst or would get angry or anything like that."
'SHOCKING AND TRAGIC'
Abigail and Mary, Douglas continued, "were fantastic mothers. They were very caring and just wonderful with their kids. They loved everyone.
“I remember our Christmases together — opening gifts — every occasion with them was just wonderful. I always had an extremely wonderful time with them.”
Adam Jackson had attended SUNY Plattsburgh in 2005-2006.
Amanda Rivenburg, 29, of Colonie was also killed in the accident. She received her degree in social work from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2011.
All four lived in campus housing or in the local community.
"This is shocking and tragic," said SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling in a statement. "I grieve with their surviving family members and all who knew them."
A fundraiser for the King family, https://tinyurl.com/y8t5d2x2, had raised $256,101 as of 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. A total 7,427 donors had contributed over three days; the original goal had been $1,000.
Another for the Dyson family, https://tinyurl.com/y86oergs, had raised $30,520 of the $30,000 goal. In one day, 411 people had given to the site.
“We appreciate the outpouring of condolences and prayers, and we really appreciate all the people we’ve heard from, including people I don’t even know,” Douglas said. “It’s just amazing.
“I just want to say thank you to them. It does help the healing process, even though we will never totally heal from this.”
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