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3 women killed in SUV crash upstate

VOORHEESVILLE, N.Y. -- An out-of-control SUV, its driver's foot possibly stuck on the gas pedal, drove onto a sidewalk yesterday morning and killed three women in a walking group before crashing into a church, police said.

The driver, Luann Burgess, 55, had just dropped off a foster child at a nearby elementary school summer program. At about 8:30 a.m., as she returned along the route she drove every day, the SUV accelerated off the road near St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church, acting Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said.

Burgess' foot or a flip-flop she was wearing apparently interfered with the gas pedal, he said.

The 2007 Toyota Highlander ran through part of a parking lot and hit the women as they waited near the church for a companion, authorities said. The SUV continued 70 or 80 feet, dragging two bodies as it ran under a covered church entryway, smashed iron railings and crashed into the brick wall of the bell tower.

Apple, a 24-year veteran in law enforcement, described the accident in the picturesque village as "horrific" and "the most gruesome" he has witnessed.

Hours after the accident, the victims' six sneakers lay under a bush where a floppy hat hung from a branch.

Burgess was being treated at Albany Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries. None of the congregants in the church for morning Mass was hurt.

District Attorney David Soares said at the scene that it was too early to say whether the driver would be charged.

Toyota has been buffeted by safety recalls and lawsuits connected to accelerator problems. Earlier this year, about 400,000 Highlanders made between 2004 and 2006 were recalled to replace carpeting and retention clips on the driver's side that could interfere with the accelerator pedal arm.

The three women were part of a group of 40 or 50 who were on a 5-kilometer guided walk organized by the Empire State Capital Volkssporters, which sponsors outings in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area.

The victims were Carol Lansing, 66, of Green Island, and Rosemarie Hume, 79, and Fran Pallozzi, 81, both of Waterford.

Michael and Kazzy Gainor, longtime village residents, said the neighborhood where the accident happened is popular with walkers, runners and cyclists because it's not heavily traveled, especially on weekday mornings after most people have headed off to jobs in Albany.

"This is a great community for walking and other activities," Kazzy Gainor said.

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