From family members, from media reports, from social media postings, the stories of many of the 20 victims of the deadliest transportation disaster in the U.S. since 2009 are coming to light.
When you see the sheer number of names of those so far identified as being inside the limousine when it crashed Saturday in Schoharie, it is chilling:
• Rich Steenburg
• Axel Steenburg
• Amy Steenburg
• Allison King
• Mary Dyson
• Robert Dyson
• Abby Jackson
• Adam Jackson
• Erin McGowan
• Shane McGowan
• Patrick Cushing
• Amanda Halse
• Amanda Rivenburg
• Rachael Cavosie
• Scott Lisinicchia
• Matthew Coons
• Savannah Bursese
Authorities have so far not released or confirmed any of the names, as they await notification of all next of kin. The passengers were out on an excursion to celebrate Amy Steenburg’s 30th birthday.
Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown confirmed Monday that a member of the party had a reservation for Saturday at noon. The brewery is about 40 miles from the crash site: Route 30 near the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie.
The name of one of the 18 victims in the Ford Excursion limo has not been determined. The bystanders killed were Brian Hough, a professor at SUNY Oswego, and his father-in-law, who was unnamed in a Facebook post from Hough’s aunt.
Here are some of the victim’s stories:
Amanda Halse & Patrick Cushing
The 26-year-old waitress at Shaker Point in Watervliet and former floral designer was killed along with her boyfriend Patrick Cushing.
Halse’s sister Karina Halse told The Associated Press her heart is “sunken” and she’s in a “place where I’ve never felt this type of pain before.” She said the sisters were texting Saturday as Amanda got into the limo for the birthday party. But before Amanda received her sister’s reply, she died in the crash.
Karina said her sister and Cushing “were two peas in a pod.” The couple’s mutual friend Michelle Radley said the pair had been together for at least a year.
“She was just as random as he was, they were perfect for each other,” Radley said.
Amanda’s boss for three years, Suzanne Balet-Haight, owner of Balet Flowers & Design, remembers Halse as very creative. She said Halse had a background in drawing and painting and a passion for arranging flowers, bouquets and dried flower wreaths. Once, Balet-Haight said, Halse made her a wood hanging with an inspirational quote she made up herself.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past couple of days, was all of her creativity and how it will be missed,” Balet-Haight said.
Balet-Haight said Halse planned a fundraiser every year for her mother at a greenhouse near Fort Ann after her mother was paralyzed in an accident.
“It was really inspirational to see how much she cared for her mom and making sure she was okay all the time,” Balet-Haight said.
The 31-year-old worked for the state Senate’s Technology Services unit. He was a sports lover who grew up in Amsterdam but lived with Amanda Halse in Troy. He leaves behind a brother, sister and two stepsisters who released a statement on Monday.
“To me, Patrick will always represent unconditional love,” his brother Justin Cushing wrote in the statement. “He opened his heart to his family and friends. That heart propelled him in each passion where he found a balance between his competitive drive and his caring spirit. His expressive personality and willingness to be emotionally vulnerable for the betterment of others has left an impact that we will always cherish. I have lost not just a brother, but my best friend,”
Michelle Radley was a very close friend of Patrick — who she said everyone called “Cushing” — for at least seven years. The pair played professional dodge ball together and she said they were like “chosen family.”
“It’s hard to put into words the kind of guy that he was. He put everyone before himself. He would have the most amazing game ever playing dodge ball and he wouldn’t even admit it, he would go out of his way to tell you good job,” Radley said.
Cushing also played local league softball. Pete Benson, Cushing’s colleague and the organizer of the softball league, knew him for eight years. Benson said Cushing was a fun and laid-back guy who talked quickly and was always running around doing something.
Team captain Jimmy Blanchard played on a softball team for three years with Cushing. Between April and September every season, they’d see each other a few times a week at practice and sometimes go out for food or drinks afterward.
“He was just a very genuine and sincere person. Everybody gravitated toward him, he was always happy. He was always comforting, whether it was something we talked about in our personal lives, picking each other up on a softball field as a team. He was very sincere and very comforting,” Blanchard said. “Every time you see him it’s with a smile.”
Cushing played dodge ball for the U.S. team in the 2016 and 2018 Dodgeball World Cups. U.S. Dodgeball mourned Cushing’s death on its Facebook page.
“Cushing proved himself one of the most agile and dominant players in the world. His no-holds-barred competitive spirit made him one of the most exciting and entertaining players to watch. Pat’s passion for the sport and always present laughter were infectious to those lucky enough to play alongside or against him,” the post read.
The team announced it will retire his number in his honor.
The Colonie resident is remembered by her colleagues as “the heart” of Living Resources, an Albany-based organization that offers programs and services to people with disabilities, where she worked.
“She was a young superstar,” said Rivenburg’s supervisor Frank Prevratil. “Amanda met her actual calling. Her calling was to serve the population and she did. She loved each and every person a part of the program and who worked for us.”
“She was dedicated and wonderful and kind,” he said.
Prevratil said Rivenburg was an only child and grew up in the Albany area. Another colleague, Deneen Palmateer, said Rivenburg had worked at Living Resources since 2011, had a degree in social work, and rose in the organization from a direct services professional to the associate director of day community opportunities program.
Rivenburg graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2011, and lived on campus for two years in Moffitt and Hood Halls, the school said Monday.
“She was the sweetest. She lights up a room. She had a vibrant smile. You felt a certain friendliness from her,” Palmateer said.
The company’s CEO Fred Erlich sent a message Monday to staff remembering Rivenburg as an employee who was deeply loved by all those who knew her.
“She will be remembered fondly through her loving spirit, wonderful smile, thoughtful nature and her genuine commitment to her colleagues and individuals that we serve,” the message read.
Amy and Axel Steenburg
The couple rented the limo to celebrate Amy’s 30th birthday party. She was a resident of Amsterdam and a nurse. The couple married in June. Axel’s brother Rich and Amy’s three sisters — Allison, Mary and Abby — and two of their husbands were also killed.
“I feel that no words I say could possibly let everyone know how wonderful these young women were and their families are,” a close family friend told the Times Union in a Facebook message. “My friends were the kindest, most genuine, women you could meet. They were hard working, even as children, and truly had hearts of gold.”
She said their parents “raised them to see the best in people and to always be thankful for what they had. I could go on and on, but just know that any and every good thing you hear about them still doesn’t add up to the women they were and they family they come from.”
Amy graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2011 with a degree in psychology. She also played on the Cardinals women’s soccer team and lived in Hood Hall for five semesters.
A Facebook fundraiser for funeral expenses organized by a family friend had raised more than $97,000 by Monday evening.
Adam and Abby Jackson
Amy Steenburg’s sister Abby and her husband, Adam, left behind two daughters, Archer, 4, and Elle, 16 months old. A GoFundMe page “College and Expenses for Archer and Elle” shows pictures of the couple holding the girls. As of Monday evening, the page had raised more than $84,000.
Abby was a teacher in the Greater Amsterdam School District. Rich Peters, president of the Amsterdam Teachers Association, said he worked in the room next to her at the Lynch Literacy Academy. She was a reading teacher, he’s a social studies teacher.
Jackson became a teacher because she loved working with kids, Peters said. She excelled at working with students one on one teach them to read.
“She wanted to help them better their lives,” he said. The school district offered grief counseling on Sunday and Monday.
According to Adam’s Facebook page, he was a deputy commissioner with Montgomery County Board of Elections. He attended SUNY Plattsburgh between 2005 and 2006, and lived in Wilson Hall.
Mary and Rob Dyson
Amy and Abby’s sister Mary Dyson and her husband Rob were both killed in the crash and leave behind a young son. The couple graduated from Clarkson University in Potsdam in 2007, according to a Facebook post from the school.
“Clarkson is a tight-knit community. All losses like this cause us to come together and reflect on the friendships we’ve made,” the university said.
A candlelight vigil at the school was scheduled Monday night.
Amy, Mary and Abby’s sister Allison King also died in the crash.
“This is shocking and tragic. We grieve with their surviving family members and all who knew them,” SUNY Plattsburgh said in a Monday post on Facebook.
King, as well as three other people in the limo, attended SUNY Plattsburgh. King graduated from the school in 2010 with a degree in speech communications and lived in deFredenburgh Hall her first year.
Erin and Shane McGowan
Erin McGowan was one of three daughters and worked in record keeping at an Amsterdam hospital. She and Shane had been a couple for at least three years and were married in June.
“You’re always hoping you find the love of your life, it’s what you hope and wish and dream for, and they found each other,” Erin’s uncle Anthony Vertucci said. “They were just so beautiful and vibrant and kind. They made such a dynamic duo. They were finally able to get married and just honestly starting to live their life. They had big plans. They were saving for a house and hoping to do everything that everybody hopes to do.”
Cavosie is survived by her parents, one sister and two brothers. Her cousin posted on Facebook that she is in shock.
“Three months apart in age, we grew up together. She’s a soul that touched so many lives including mine. She gave me so much guidance and even though she was the younger cousin, I looked up to her and often sought her advice through out my life,” the post read.
Another cousin from East Greenbush is raising funeral funds on GoFundMe.
The 2015 Hartwick College graduate majored in political science and business administration, according to a Facebook post from the college. She was also a volleyball player and a member of the Phi Sigma Phi sorority.
Her sorority sisters from Phi Sigma Phi set up a GoFundMe for her where they shared that she was “a loving daughter, friend, girlfriend, and sister.”
“There are no words that can heal the friends and family of Savannah’s pain as a single moment has now changed their lives forever,” the post read.
Bursese attended Broadalbin-Perth High School and Fulton-Montgomery Community College before her time at Hartwick, the college said Monday in a Facebook post.
Savannah Bursese’s boyfriend Matthew was also killed. According to his Facebook page, he was a U.S. Army veteran and a fitness trainer. His cousin posted on Facebook that the family was in shock at the tragedy that claimed his life.
Steenburg was Axel’s brother. Both brothers worked at GlobalFoundries and have a GoFundMe.
Steenburg’s family released the following statement to Rochester television station 13WHAM Monday evening:
“The Steenburg and King families suffered tremendous loss yesterday that is nothing short of tragic. Those left behind by the perished include children, spouses and parents — among others. We thank all of the first responders who have assisted, those who have reached out with kindness and love and those who continue to support us as we mourn those we lost. We also ask for respect and compassion as we continue the grieving process and cope through such misfortune.”
Steenburg’s wife, Kimberly, had intended to join the birthday celebration but decided Saturday morning to bow out because she was not feeling well, Amy Dunlop-Johnson told National Public Radio. They have two teenage children and they had just bought a home together, she said.
The driver of the limousine leaves behind his wife. A close family friend created a GoFundMe to support her and the rest of his family.
“Words can not express the grief and sorrow that we, his family and friends are experiencing. The entire community is shocked and devastated with the news of this terrible accident and Scott’s untimely passing,” the page read.
Brian Hough and his father-in-law
Hough’s aunt posted on Facebook saying that Hough, a professor at SUNY Oswego, and his father-in-law were the two bystanders killed when the limo crashed into the parking lot.
“My nephew was an accomplished professor, an amazing husband, and daddy. Our family is trying to make sense of this,” the post read.
The university released a statement Monday mourning his death as a result of an accident on Saturday. A college spokesman said he was still awaiting official confirmation from State Police whether there was a connection to the crash.
“In a short time, Brian became a major part of our campus family,” President Deborah F. Stanley said in the statement. “He was a dedicated faculty member who inspired his students to learn and understand at a deep level, and whose contributions were often sought by his colleagues. He will be missed and remembered fondly by all, always.”
Hough had been a visiting geology professor since 2016. He earned his Ph.D from the University of Rochester, master’s degree from Idaho State University, and bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University.
The school is offering counseling services this week.
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