Troopers release names of limo crash victims

SCHOHARIE — State police on Tuesday released a comprehensive list identifying all 20 victims of Saturday’s fatal limousine crash, which included four city of Johnstown residents and six Amsterdam residents.

“Obviously, our sympathies to the families,” Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson said today. “It’s a tragic loss.”

Seventeen passengers in the limousine, including Amy Steenburg of Amsterdam, who was celebrating her 30th birthday, Amy’s husband Axel, Axel’s brother Richard, Amy’s three sisters and two of her brothers-in-law, were among the dead. Several of the young adults grew up together and most lived in Amsterdam. Two of the couples were newlyweds.

The limo was headed to Amy Steenburg’s birthday party at a brewery in Cooperstown.

State police said the 2001 Ford Excursion Prestige Limousine vehicle had been traveling downhill at about 2 p.m. Saturday toward the intersection of Route 30 and 30A in the town of Schoharie near the Apple Barrel Country Store. Troopers said the 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.

An investigation into the crash is ongoing, and no reason for it has been released yet by state police.

∫ Limousine passengers were: Axel J. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam; Richard M. Steenburg, 34, Johnstown; Amy L. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam; Allison King, 31, Ballston Spa; Mary E. Dyson, 33, Watertown; Robert J. Dyson, 34, Watertown; Abigail M. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam; Matthew W. Coons, 27, Johnstown; Savannah D. Bursese, 24, Johnstown; Patrick K. Cushing, 31, Troy; Amanda D. Halse, 26, Troy; Erin R. McGowan, 34, Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, Amsterdam; Amanda Rivenburg, 29, Colonie; Adam G. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 34, Johnstown.

∫ The limousine driver was Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, Lake George.

∫ Pedestrians standing in the Apple Barrel lot were: Brian Hough, 46, Moravia; and James Schnurr, 70, Kerhonkson.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered that flags be flown at half-staff, beginning on Thursday until interment.

“The entire family of New York mourns for the lives cut short in this crash,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “In memory of those who were taken from us, I am directing that flags be lowered to half-staff. In the wake of the Schoharie crash, it is hard to fathom the extent of this tragedy. We lost mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters, brothers and friends, and the community will never be the same. The entire family of New York mourns for the lives cut short in this crash. In memory of those who were taken from us, I am directing that flags be lowered to half-staff.”

Cuomo added, “Some of those who tragically died were among our family of State employees, including Justice Center employee Amy King Steenburg, SUNY Oswego professor Brian Hough, and Patrick Cushing, a New York State Senate employee. On behalf of the state of New York, I extend my deepest condolences to the families of all of those lost, their loved ones and coworkers in this incredibly difficult time.”

The giant scoreboard in Yankee Stadium in New York City Tuesday night broadcast a Yankees symbol with a candle stating: “Our Thoughts And Prayers To The Victims in Schoharie, NY.”

Relatives of the limousine driver involved in a crash said Tuesday they believe he was unwittingly assigned an unsafe vehicle. The family of Lisinicchia released a statement through a lawyer shortly after another attorney representing the limousine company, Prestige Limousine, said the driver might have been unfamiliar with the rural road.

The statement from Lisinicchia’s lawyer said he would never have “knowingly put others in harm’s way” and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“The family believes that unbeknownst to him he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants,” according to the statement from Grant & Longworth.

Kim Lisinicchia told CBS in an interview broadcast this morning that her husband, Scott, stated several times that he needed a different vehicle but then trusted the company’s assurances that its “cars were all right.”

Lisinicchia says her husband was “in excellent health” and drove a tractor-trailer for 20 years.

Prestige Limousine has been criticized for maintaining vehicles rife with violations and for employing a driver lacking a commercial 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 Sept. 4, including a problem with the antilock brake system malfunction indicator system. Four of the Gansevoort, New York-based company’s limos were cited for 22 maintenance violations this year, though none were deemed critical.

“Those safety issues had been addressed and corrected,” attorney Lee Kindlon, who represents Prestige. “Not all infractions are major. A lot of these things are minor and were fixed.”

Prestige’s lawyer, Lee Kindlon, says the driver might have misjudged his ability to stop at the bottom of a hill Saturday.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Joseph Morrissey said a sticker was placed on the vehicle after the September inspection declaring it “unserviceable.” He said Kindlon’s assertion that the code violations had been corrected and the vehicle cleared for service was “categorically false.”

Even if the repairs were made, the limo would have needed to be re-inspected and the owner would need approval again to transport passengers, a state transportation department spokesman said.

Kindlon said he doesn’t think those infractions contributed to the crash.

One of the victims, Erin McGowan, texted a friend saying the party bus that was supposed to take them to Cooperstown had broken down on the way to pick them up and that the group obtained a stretch limo instead, the friend, Melissa Healey, told media. McGowan texted that the limo was in poor condition, with its motor “making everyone deaf.”

Federal transportation records show that Prestige is owned by Shahed Hussain, who worked as an informant for the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks. He infiltrated Muslim groups by posing as a terrorist sympathizer in at least three investigations.

State police say Shahed Hussain is in Pakistan.

On Monday his son, Nauman Hussain, who has operated the limo company, met with state police investigators for several hours.

In 2014, Nauman Hussain and his brother were accused by police of insisting they were each other after a traffic stop. Nauman Hussain was the passenger, but had a valid license. His brother did not. Police later discovered Nauman had an extensive suspension and conviction list which had been cleared.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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