The operator of a limousine company was spared prison time Thursday in a 2018 crash that killed 20 people when catastrophic brake failure sent a stretch limo full of birthday revelers hurtling down a hill in upstate New York. Loved ones of the dead excoriated Nauman Hussain, 31, as he sat quietly at the defense table during a hearing that was held in a high school gymnasium to provide for social distancing among the many relatives, friends, and media members attending, the AP reports. Hussain, who operated Prestige Limousine, had originally been charged with 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in what was the deadliest US transportation disaster in a decade.
But under an agreement for Hussain to plead guilty only to the homicide counts and spare families the uncertainties and emotional toll of a trial, he faces five years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service. His case was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Before Judge George Bartlett III accepted the agreement, loved ones of the victims took turns talking of lives cut short, the holes left in their own, and their frustration that the operator would avoid time behind bars. "Every day I try to wrap my head around this impossible situation," said Sheila McGarvey, whose son Shane McGowan, 30, and his wife, Erin, were passengers. "I hate every day without him." She wished, she said, that a fraction of any money Hussain spent on lawyers would have been spent to fix the limo's brakes.
Hussain was accused of putting the victims in a death trap. "My son, my baby boy, was killed in a limo while trying to be safe," said Beth Muldoon, the mother of Adam Jackson, 34, who died with his wife, Abigail King Jackson. The couple, who with the others had rented the limo to avoid drinking and driving, had two small children. One spectator left the hearing, cursing and shouting, "He killed 20 people," before apologizing to the judge on her way out. Hussain sat quietly as parents talked about their smothering grief and anger. Defense attorney Joseph Tacopina said his client accepts responsibility and cried as the relatives spoke. Under the deal, Hussain will be formally sentenced after an interim probation of two years. The judge noted that Hussain's guilty plea could be used to buoy any lawsuits. (Four sisters were among those killed.)