One of the passengers in the ill-fated limousine that crashed in upstate New York sent a last text message to a friend about the vehicle’s “terrible condition” just minutes before the accident that killed 20 people.
Erin McGowan, one of a group of 17 on their way to a birthday party in the white stretch limo, texted a friend about 20 minutes before the fatal crash, The New York Times reported.
“The motor is making everyone deaf,” she said. “When we get to brewery, we will all be deaf.”
Ms McGowan’s aunt, Valerie Abeling, told CNN her niece had texted her friend saying hire company Prestige Limousines had sent the car in place of a vehicle that had broken down.
The group of friends and family in the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine was bound for a party at a brewery in upstate New York.
They were all killed when the massive vehicle ignored a stop sign at the intersection of two highways in Schoharie, about 65 kilometres west of Albany, on Saturday (US time). Residents had long warned the intersection was dangerous.
The car careened through the intersection and hit an empty car. The driver and two pedestrians also died in the accident.
Among those killed were two pairs of newlyweds, four sisters from one family and two brothers from another. Federal authorities said it was the US’s deadliest transport crash in nearly a decade.
New York state governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that the limo had failed an inspection last month and its driver – reportedly 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia – was not properly licensed.
Prestige Limousines would be forced to halt business until the crash was investigated, Mr Cuomo said.
Robert Sumwalt, chief of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said the accident should be “a wake-up call” for limousine safety.
“Here we have 20 lives that have been lost tragically. We do need to learn from this,” Mr Sumwalt said on Monday.
The NTSB is investigating the crash and will look at regulations for limousines, whose passengers are not required to wear seat belts.
“I can tell you that wearing seat belts does save lives. Whether or not it would have made a difference here … remains to be seen,” Mr Sumwalt said.
He said most of the victims were found inside the vehicle after the crash, although one or two might have been thrown from it. Investigators also plan to look into whether the design of the road was a factor in the accident.
Officials had not released the victims’ names by early Tuesday, but some names and details were disclosed in media accounts from relatives and on Go Fund Me pages.
Erin and Shane McGowan were just starting a life together after five months of marriage, the Times Union of Rochester, New York, reported.
The McGowans were among the group who had climbed into the limo to celebrate their friend Amy Steenburg’s 30th birthday, the paper and other media reported.
Mrs Steenburg was also a newlywed. She and her three sisters – Mary Dyson, Allison King and Abby Jackson – and her husband, Axel, and his brother, Rich, all died, relatives told The New York Times.
“I don’t know how you say it. You can’t wrap you head around such a tragedy where you have four of your daughters die,” Barbara Douglas, the aunt of the sisters, said at the scene.
NBC news reported that Mrs Dyson’s husband, Rob, also died.