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Deadly NY Limo Accident Brings the Arrest of Limo Company Operator

This morning police in upstate New York arrested the son of the owner of a limo service in connection with the horrific crash over last weekend that killed 20 people. The accident happened on Route 30 in Schoharie, near the Apple Barrel Country Store and Café last Saturday, and it is the deadliest US single-vehicle transportation accident in more than a decade.

According to the New York State Police, Nauman Hussain, whose father, Shahed, owns Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service, was arrested this morning during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 787. Police said Nauman Hussain is an “operator” for Prestige Limo. As of now, charges are pending, and police declined to say whether or not the arrest was related to the deadly crash, but a representative for Prestige did confirm that it was.

NTSB and NYDOT Are Investigating

Over the last few days, state officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and officials at the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT), and officials with Prestige Limo have been offering up conflicting reports regarding the stretch Ford Excursion should have even been on the roads of New York at the time of the crash.

For example, Gov. Cuomo and NYDOT have both said publicly that the vehicle failed both a federal inspection and a periodic state inspection and was deemed unfit to drive a month before the accident.  On the other hand, officials with Prestige Limo claim NYDOT only found “minor infractions” during its inspection, such as faulty windshield wipers and a broken window latch, and that NYDOT inspectors ruled the limo “road worthy” after their inspection. NYDOT officials countered that the statement that the limo had been cleared to be on the road was “categorically false.”

The Cause of the Accident is Unknown

The accident happened when the limo failed to stop at an intersection and failed to stop at a t-junction between Routes 30 and 30A and slammed into an empty SUV that was parked at the Apple Barrel. The crash left all 18 people inside the limousine, including the driver, as well as two pedestrians, dead. The limo was carrying four sisters and several other relatives and friends to a birthday celebration. The crash “sounded like an explosion, according to some witnesses, and some describe a scene in which bodies were strewn around the scene.

There have been other issues uncovered in the initial investigation. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board notes the Ford Excursion limo carrying 18 young people to a birthday celebration was originally a traditional SUV that had been stretched, and they are looking into how and when the vehicle was converted.

As for whether the driver, 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, was properly licensed at the time of the crash, Prestige officials contend that he was, and that they had checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles several times, and the DMV had confirmed his compliance. According to reports, the driver’s brother, Keith Lisinicchia, said his brother also regularly drove dump trucks and tractor-trailers, and took his job seriously and he couldn’t imagine his brother would drive the limo without the proper license. Both he and the driver’s widow, Kim Lisinicchia, describe the deceased as a very good driver. However, she has told reporters she remembers him complaining about the company’s vehicles and she remembers overhearing him demanding another car at least once, although she was unable to say when she overheard this.

Was the Limo Roadworthy?

There is a likelihood the main focus of the investigation of this accident will be on the vehicle itself. Based on federal law, limousines built in factories are required to meet very stringent safety regulations, but whenever cars are converted into limos, oftentimes, safety features are removed, which can sometimes lead to gaps in safety protocols. Several members of Congress have asked the NTSB to tighten standards, but since NHTSA data shows limousine accidents to be rather rare, there often seems to be no urgency to cracking down.

However, in this case, one focal point of the investigation promises to be the aftermarket modifications made to the vehicle, but there will also be a close look at Prestige as a company and its history. Immediately following the crash, authorities seized the limo involved in the crash and three other vehicles.

According to federal records, Prestige Limousines has been cited for 22 violations within the past two years. In that time, four vehicles were taken out of service and all were sold and transferred. In an inspection just last month, three Prestige vehicles failed inspections and the company was cited for multiple violations, including for either no or defective emergency exits and brakes that were malfunctioning. Prestige has noted that all those issues had been addressed and fixed. According to an inspection on September 4, the Excursion involved in last week’s accident was taken “out of service,” meaning it was prohibited from being on the road because it posed a hazard.

Product Liability, Vehicle Safety