(SKY NEWS) — Four sisters are among 20 people dead after a limousine on its way to a 30th birthday party crashed into a parked car in upstate New York.
Three of the sisters were with their husbands, according to the siblings’ aunt, Barbara Douglas, who identified the victims as Amy and Axel Steenburg, Abby and Adam Jackson, Mary and Rob Dyson, and Allison King.
The Steenburgs had married during the summer, and another newlywed couple, Erin Vertucci and Shane McGowan, also died.
Mr Steenburg’s brother, Rich, was among the fatalities as well as Mrs Steenburg’s friend, Amanda Rivenburg.
The brothers’ stepfather, Lester Andrews, told the New York Times: “Axel and Amy rented the limo with some families. There’s just a lot of confusion, so many people died.”
Ms Douglas said the four sisters were “wonderful girls”, adding: “They’d do anything for you and they were very close to each other and they loved their family.
“They did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn’t have to drive anywhere,” she said, adding the couples had several children between them who they left at home.
The Ford Excursion struck an unoccupied sport-utility vehicle after failing to stop at an intersection in Schoharie on Saturday.
State police have confirmed 18 of the victims were inside the limousine, while the other two were pedestrians standing in the car park of the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe.
The crash happened shortly before 2pm in the town 170 miles north of New York City.
Jessica Kirby, the store’s manager, told the New York Times: “That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60mph.
“I don’t want to describe the scene. It’s not something I want to think about.”
US media had earlier reported that the vehicle was on its way to a wedding, but an aunt of one of the victims has said it was in fact heading to a birthday party.
Valerie Abeling says her niece Erin Vertucci was among the victims with her newlywed husband Shane McGowan.
She said her own daughter had been invited along but couldn’t go.
Ms Abeling said of the victims: “She was a beautiful, sweet soul; he was too.”
US media is reporting that Adam and Abby Jackson are survived by their four-year-old son Archer and 16-month-old daughter Elle.
A GoFundMe page set up to raise money for the children had reached $6,235 of its $50,000 target on Sunday evening.
National Transport Safety Board investigators made their way to scene of the collision on Sunday.
NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said: “Twenty fatalities is horrific… this is one of the biggest losses of lives that we have seen in a long, long time.
“This is the most deadly transportation accident in the country since February of 2009.”
Bridey Finnagen, who lives near the scene of the crash, told ABC News: “I heard a loud bang (and) I came out my front door to see what was going on.
“I saw a lot of people here at the Apple Barrel out in the parking lot. Then I heard screaming.
“Then I saw this large van, a very unusual looking vehicle out here in Schoharie in the bushes and really wrecked, hit a tree.”
Mr Finnagen added: “The first responders broke some windows to try to get people out.
“I believe the jaws of life were here on the side of one of the fire trucks.”