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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Local, state and federal investigators have gathered in a small, upstate New York town to determine the cause of “the nation’s deadliest transportation disaster in nine years.” Twenty people were killed Saturday afternoon when a rented SUV limousine crashed in a parking lot in Schoharie, New York, about 40 miles west of the state capital of Albany.
The accident occurred at about 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, when the limo with 17 young adults celebrating a birthday and the limo driver descended a steep hill on Route 30. According to the New York State Police, the driver failed to stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Route 30 and 30A, the Albany Times Union reported Monday.
The limo traveled across the intersection and into the Apple Barrel restaurant parking lot, where it hit an unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander. Two nearby pedestrians were struck and killed.
"This is the most deadly transportation accident in this country since February of 2009," Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters at a police briefing on Sunday. He was referring to the February 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo, New York, which killed 50 people.
Dangerous Intersection Where Limousine Crashed Often Subject of Complaints by Local Residents
"Twenty fatalities is just horrific," Sumwalt said. "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."
Residents of the area often complained to police that the intersection was “notoriously dangerous,” because vehicles had trouble braking on the steep decline.
“A day after the crash, remnants of the accident’s violence were readily visible, including a tire torn from the limousine,” The New York Times reported. “What appeared to be debris from the car littered the scene: mirror fragments, taillight pieces, a hairbrush.”
Sumwalt estimated that the investigators will be at the scene for about five days collecting evidence. But they will not release a cause of the crash until after they have completed their report.
The State Police set up a special hotline on Sunday for families to call who might have lost a relative in the crash. But officials did not release the names of the victims, saying they were still notifying family members.
"The fact that the NTSB is here indicates we're very concerned about this," Sumwalt said.
NTSB Go Teams Arrive Quickly to Investigate All Major Accidents
An NTSB "Go Team" investigates all major accidents at the accident scene as quickly as possible, according to the NTSB website. The team is led by an Investigator-in-Charge (IIC), who is a senior investigator with years of NTSB and industry experience.
The team is composed of several technical experts. Each investigator is a specialist responsible for a clearly defined portion of the accident investigation. Specialists at a highway crash will include a truck or bus mechanical expert and a highway engineer.
One of the nation’s worst highway traffic accidents occurred on December 11, 1990, when a dense fog covered a portion of I-75 in Tennessee. The poor visibility led to a 70 car pile-up that killed 13 people. Thirty-three different fire companies responded to the car fires. As a result, Tennessee installed a fog early warning system.