AMSTERDAM, N.Y. >> Hundreds of mourners packed an upstate New York church today for the funeral of four sisters and four other family members who died in a limousine crash last weekend that killed a total of 20 people.
The Rev. O. Robert DeMartinis assured mourners at the St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in Amsterdam, New York, that their loved ones can still see their tears, feel their heartache and want them to live in the moment.
Referring to the catastrophic accident last Saturday that turned a birthday celebration into tragedy, “the question that is in the hearts of so many is why,” the priest said. “Why did these 20 individuals have to be taken from us so quickly and so unexpectedly?”
Among them were Amy Steenburg and her husband, Axel Steenburg, whom DeMartinis had married in June.
One item from their wedding was brought to the funeral: a sign the couple made asking wedding guests not to take pictures, because “we suggest that you live in the moment.”
The priest held up the sign for about 500 mourners in the pews to see.
“That’s what they’re asking me to ask you to do today,” DeMartinis said.
Urns that rested by the altar held the remains of Amy Steenburg and her husband, and his brother, Richard Steenburg; Amy’s sister Abigail Jackson and her husband Adam Jackson; sister Mary Dyson and her husband Robert Dyson; and the fourth sister, Allison King.
Each of the three married couples shared an urn, placed near photographs of the eight crash victims. Surrounding the urns were five teddy bears — one for each young child who lost a parent.
On a chilly, damp day, mourners had lined up for hours outside the old, red brick church to be able to get into the service in Amsterdam, where many of the 20 victims grew up and stilled lived. Half an hour away in Schoharie is the country store where the stretch limo crashed after barreling down a hill past a stop sign into another vehicle in the parking lot. All 18 passengers were killed, as well as two pedestrians standing in the parking lot of the store.
A week ago, the group — most of them in their 30s — was headed to a birthday party for Amy Steenburg at a local brewery in Cooperstown.
DeMartinis said he believes Amy and her friends are still celebrating her 30th birthday, “with God.”
Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the crash while prosecutors have charged the operator of the limo company, Nauman Hussain, with criminally negligent homicide, saying he allowed an improperly licensed driver to operate an “unserviceable” vehicle.