Prestige Limo owner’s son arrested
SCHOHARIE — State police on Wednesday arrested the operator of the limousine service involved in Saturday’s Schoharie County crash that killed 20 people on a felony charge of criminally negligent homicide.
A state police news release said Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes — operator of Saratoga County-based Prestige Limousine — was taken into custody following a “controlled traffic stop” on 1-787 in Watervliet.
The charge is in connection with the deadly crash.
The single count involves all 20 victims.
Hussain is the son of the owner of Prestige, Shahed Hussan, who state police said is currently out of the country.
According to the New York state Penal Law, a person is “guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person.” The charge is a class E felony.
Hussain showed little emotion as he was arraigned Wednesday evening in Schoharie County Court, and he ignored shouted questions from reporters as he left after posting $150,000 bond. A judge had entered a not guilty plea for him.
Prestige Limousine operator Nauman Hussain hired a driver who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of such a car, and the vehicle shouldn’t have been driven after state inspectors deemed it “unserviceable” last month, state police Superintendent George Beach II said at a news conference.
Hussain has retained Albany attorney Terence Kindlon to represent him. Kindlon gave an impromptu press conference in Latham following the arrest. He claimed state police were premature in charging his client and that Hussain isn’t guilty.
Kindlon says police “jumped the gun in charging him with any crime.”
Police called Hussain the operator of Prestige Limousine, but Kindlon says Hussain only handled marketing and phone calls while his father ran the company day-to-day.
Hussain has had a brush with law enforcement before. State police accused him and his brother of claiming each other’s names after a 2014 traffic stop, which happened while the brother was driving without a valid license.
State officials have said the limo failed an inspection and was declared “unserviceable” on Sept. 4. Kindlon has said safety problems were corrected, though the state says that’s not so.
Twenty people were killed in the limo accident, which occurred just before 2 p.m. Saturday in the town of Schoharie.
State police said the 2001 Ford Excursion Prestige Limousine vehicle coming from Saratoga County had been traveling downhill toward the intersection of Route 30 and 30A in the town near the Apple Barrel Country Store. Troopers said the stretch limo failed to stop, crossing the highway before hitting an unoccupied SUV in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel, and two pedestrians nearby. The limousine then crashed into a shallow ravine, troopers said.
All 18 people onboard the limo were killed, as well as two pedestrians.
Beach, in Latham on Wednesday, led a press conference detailing Nauman Hussain’s arrest. He said the driver Hussain hired “should not have been operating” the limo that crashed in Schoharie.
Beach said state police continue to go over forensic information and road reconstruction data.
He said Hussain was also aware of the violations involving the limo that crashed.
“He knew this,” Beach said. “The sole responsibility of that vehicle being on the road rests with Nauman Hussain.”
When asked if more charges are pending, perhaps against the father, the state police official said that possibility exists.
Relatives of the limousine driver involved in the crash — driver Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, Lake George. — said Tuesday they believe he was unwittingly assigned an unsafe vehicle.
Kim Lisinicchia told CBS in an interview broadcast Wednesday that she heard her husband repeatedly say: “I’m not going to drive this, like this. You need to get me another car.” But then “he trusted in what the limo company said, that the cars were all right.”
She said her husband was an excellent, veteran driver with over 20 years of experience in tractor-trailers and was in fine health.
“I feel for these victims,” the widow said. “I am in no way trying to make it seem like it’s about me or my husband. I just want my husband to be vindicated. I have to stand for him, because nobody else will.”
Prestige Limousine has been criticized for maintaining vehicles rife with violations and for employing a driver without the proper endorsment on his license. The deadly crash also has shined fresh light on the business owner, a former FBI informant.
The limousine that ran the stop sign was cited for code violations, including a problem with the antilock brake system malfunction indicator system. Four of the company’s limos were cited for 22 maintenance violations this year, though none were deemed critical.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Joseph Morrissey said a sticker was placed on the vehicle after the September inspection declaring it “unserviceable.”
Even if the violations had been corrected, the owner would have needed a new inspection and new approval to transport passengers, the Transportation Department said.
State police said Wednesday that the same limousine operated by Prestige Limousine and driven by Lisinicchia was stopped by troopers on Aug. 25 in Saratoga Springs.
Police say the trooper issued violations, advised that Lisinicchia could not operate the vehicle and “took steps to ensure that the vehicle was taken off the road.” The incident was originally reported by the Times Union of Albany.
Kindlon said he didn’t think the infractions contributed to the crash. He suggested the driver, who died in the crash, might have misjudged his momentum on the hill.
The T-intersection at the bottom was a known danger spot, Kindlon noted. It was rebuilt after a deadly 2008 wreck, but there have since been other accidents at the junction.
“I think, frankly, the Department of Transportation and the state of New York is doing a great job in saying, ‘Look over there! It’s not our fault!'” Kindlon said, suggesting the state “faces an incredible amount of liability if they’re found to be at fault.”
A second service for the crash victims was conducted Wednesday night at Schoharie Central School. The first service and candlelight vigil was conducted Monday night in Amsterdam and drew 2,500 participants.
Services have been set for some of the victims, including 24-year-old Savannah Devonne Bursese, of Johnstown, the accident’s youngest victim. Her services are today from 3 to 7 p.m. at Walrath & Stewart Funeral Home in Gloversville.
Combined services for Abigail (King) Jackson, Adam “Action” Jackson, Mary (King) Dyson, Robert J. Dyson, Allison A. King, Amy (King) Steenburg, Axel J. Steenburg and Richard Steenburg Jr. will be held Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church, 50-52 Cornell St. in Amsterdam.
On Saturday at 1 p.m. a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at the church. All are welcome to attend.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.