4 sis­ters among limo crash’s vic­tims

Year of cel­e­bra­tion turns mourn­ful in New York

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Gary Craig

The wed­ding page tells the story of a young man and woman who first be­came friends, then be­came a ro­man­tic pair, and then be­came a mar­ried cou­ple. It is a com­mon story, yet sin­gu­lar in its own way. Amy King and Axel Steen­burg “sipped craft beers” and played pool on their first date in 2015, then boated with friends on their sec­ond — a day in which they spent “from sun­rise to sun­set” talk­ing, ac­cord­ing to an on­line wed­ding page, the­knot.com. About three years later, on June 30 of this year, they mar­ried in a Catholic church in the tiny vil­lage of Haga­man, New York, about 18 miles north­west of Sch­enec­tady. Among the bridal party at Amy and Axel’s wed­ding were Amy’s sis­ters — Al­li­son King, who was the maid of honor, and Mary Dyson and Abi­gail Jack­son, who were brides­maids. Nearly 100 days af­ter the wed­ding, the four sis­ters were among the 20 peo­ple killed in the Satur­day af­ter­noon limou­sine crash in a ru­ral area of Schoharie. They were to­gether to cel­e­brate Amy’s birth­day. Axel Steen­burg and his brother Rich Steen­burg, the best man in the wed­ding, also died in the crash. Also killed was an­other cou­ple mar­ried in June — Erin and Shane McGowan. All of the 17 pas­sen­gers died, as did the driver and two pedes­tri­ans. To fam­ily and friends, the loss is both dev­as­tat­ing and unimag­in­able. The days ahead will an­swer ques­tions about whether the in­ter­sec­tion where the crash oc­curred was par­tic­u­larly un­safe and the limou­sine driver and com­pany par­tic­u­larly un­re­li­able. Those ques­tions and an­swers could avoid more tragedies and more deaths. But, for those who knew Amy and Axel Steen­burg and the fam­ily mem­bers and friends killed Satur­day, they will pro­vide lit­tle in the way of con­so­la­tion. Amy Steen­burg, the new­ly­wed and the youngest of the four sis­ters in the limou­sine, was cel­e­brat­ing her 30th birth­day Satur­day. Amy, her hus­band, her sis­ters, and the other friends who piled into the white 2001 Ford Ex­pe­di­tion, which had been con­verted into a stretch limou­sine, were a de­cid­edly close-knit group who often con­gre­gated for fun. “They were to­gether mul­ti­ple times a week, al­ways hang­ing out,” Erin Fla­herty, a friend of many of the vic­tims, told The New York Times. Thus, it was char­ac­ter­is­tic that they would unite for the 30th birth­day of Amy Steen­burg — a mile­stone in a year of mile­stones. The group had planned a noon visit to Brew­ery Om­megang in Coop­er­stown, the quaint and his­toric cen­tral New York vil­lage best known as the home of the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame. There, they had a tour of Om­megang sched­uled, to be fol­lowed by a tast­ing session. The reser­va­tion was made re­cently, and for a smaller group than the num­ber in the limo, ac­cord­ing to brew­ery spokes­woman Al­li­son Capozza. But, she said, it’s not un­com­mon for a reser­va­tion num­ber to be dif­fer­ent than how many do show up. The de­lay may well have been caused by a change in plans. Va­lerie Abel­ing, an aunt of Erin McGowan, told The Wash­ing­ton Post the group was ex­pect­ing a small bus. That bus ap­par­ently broke down, and the group in­stead got the stretch limou­sine, which was equipped with bench seats in the rear. “The driver didn’t have a proper li­cense,” state po­lice Maj. Robert Pat­naude said at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day. The limou­sine provider, Pres­tige Limou­sine of Gan­sevoort, New York, and the limou­sine it­self “have been un­der scru­tiny in the past,” Pat­naude said. McGowan texted Abel­ing’s daugh­ter and said that the con­di­tions in the vehi- cle were ter­ri­ble, Va­lerie Abel­ing told The Post. But the group set­tled into the limou­sine for the trip to Coop­er­stown. They never made it there. Now, what was to be a cel­e­bra­tion has in­stead trag­i­cally mor­phed into plans for me­mo­rial ser­vices, re­mem­brances, and drives to raise money for the chil­dren of some of those killed. The Satur­day in June when the Steen­burgs wed was un­sea­son­ably hot. Af­ter­ward, ev­ery­one headed to a re­cep­tion at The Saratoga Win­ery in Saratoga Springs. “It was one of those days that was about 100 de­grees and 100 per­cent hu­mid­ity,” re­mem­bered Seth Berger, the win­ery’s man­ager. The win­ery brought out sprin­klers, and the guests did not hes­i­tate to in­dulge in the cool­ing plea­sure — wed­ding at­tire, be damned. “We took pic­tures of Axel and Amy go­ing through the sprin­klers soak­ing wet,” Berger said. Berger still has the pho­tos on his phone. He never imag­ined how much they would mean to him.

“It was one of those days that was about 100 de­grees and 100 per­cent hu­mid­ity.” Seth Berger, Saratoga Springs win­ery man­ager, de­scrib­ing Amy and Axel Steen­burg’s wed­ding day


Thou­sands gather Mon­day at the Mo­hawk Gate­way Bridge in Am­s­ter­dam, N.Y., for a can­dle­light vigil for the 20 peo­ple killed in Satur­day’s crash.

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