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Schoharie Residents Comment On Intersection Where Fatal Limo Crash Occurred

State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, Senator James Seward, and Assemblyman Chris Tague listen to Schoharie residents
Lucas Willard
State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, Senator James Seward, and Assemblyman Chris Tague listen to Schoharie residents

Schoharie residents came together Thursday night to share their thoughts on the intersection where the fatal 2018 limousine accident occurred. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports that the comments will be shared with the New York State Department of Transportation.

Despite the messy weather, dozens of locals appeared at the Schoharie Fire House Thursday night to attend the forum organized by local state lawmakers.

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of limousine safety bills into law, drafted with direct input from families affected by the October 2018 crash that killed 20.

Republican State Senator James Seward spoke to the crowd. He said input gathered on state Routes 30 and 30A, where the crash occurred, would be shared with state transportation officials. Though they were invited, representatives of the Department of Transportation declined to attend, said Seward.

“They have traffic engineers, other experts, but I would say the real experts are those that travel the highway or live along Route 30 or 30A,” said Seward.

Erika Bretz has lived on the Route 30 hill for ten years.

“I no longer use that road. I coast down [Route] 7 because it’s a lesser grade, I don’t have to hit my brakes ‘til I hit the bottom. I don’t have to ride them and smell them burning as I’m going down the hill,” said Bretz.

And when she does drive to the bottom, she often finds it hard to turn out onto Route 30A.

“Here’s a car and there’s a car and here’s a car and there’s a car, and they’re all zooming at 60, 70 miles an hour…they won’t let you in!” said Bretz.

Susan Jacques says she hasn’t had an issue with the configuration of the roadway but does have a suggestion.

“I’m there 24 years. I’ve never had a problem coming down that hill. There’s signs all along the way – “Steep Hill” – there’s a steep hill sign. So speed limit would be the answer,” said Jacques.

Mobile speed cameras have been added to the area, and local officials say that has had some effect.

But Schoharie County Sheriff Ron Stevens said he’s seen accidents at the intersection where the fatal limo crash occurred for years.

“I was a police officer out here in the 70s. And we had accidents at the same intersection. But the problem we have now is it abruptly ends in a T-intersection with Route 30,” said Stevens.

About a decade ago, modifications were made to the intersection. What used to end in a curve was changed to a T-style intersection.

“There used to be kind of a left-hand turn that would shed some speed and you could get your car stopped before you had to blend into Route 30. And now there’s a stop sign at the end – and it should be looked at,” said Stevens.

Gerald Coons feels the same way.

“That road should have never been changed from the curve to a straight T.”

DOT did collect public input before the change was made. But Coons said some residents were hesitant about the change.

“They didn’t listen to any of us.”

Republican Assemblyman Chris Tague, a former Schoharie Town Supervisor, says he’s uncertain about what the state DOT will do with the comments offered up Thursday night.

“But my job is to put every effort forth to make things better and if we find something that’s wrong, that’s going to save people’s lives, or save them from injury, then we’ve done our job,” said Tague.

In an email, DOT spokesman Joe Morrissey said:

“There is no indication that the posted speed limit in this area contributed in any way to the tragic crash in Schoharie.  Speed limits are set based upon engineering standards and speeds at this location are in compliance with those standards.”

A final report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the 2018 limo crash has not been issued, but the agency did issue safety recommendations in October.

The NTSB determined the limousine involved crossed the intersection “at a speed considerably in excess of the posted limit.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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