Limo Crash Killed 20. 5 Years Later, a Trial

After plea deal rejected, operator of stretch limo goes on trial in upstate New York
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 1, 2023 10:45 AM CDT
Operator in Limo Crash That Killed 20 Goes on Trial
A body is draped under a blanket at the scene of a fatal crash in Schoharie, New York, on Oct. 6, 2018. Nearly five years after catastrophic brake failure sent a stretch limousine packed with birthday revelers careening down a hill, killing 20 people, the operator of the limo company is going on trial.   (Tom Heffernan Sr. via AP, File)

Nearly five years after a stretch limousine packed with birthday revelers careened down a hill and off a road in rural upstate New York, killing 20 people, the operator of the company that rented out the vehicle is going on trial. Nauman Hussain, who ran Prestige Limousine, is charged with criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the Oct. 6, 2018, crash—one of the deadliest US road wrecks of the past two decades—in Schoharie, a village west of Albany. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in Schoharie County. Seventeen people using the limo for a birthday celebration were killed, reports the AP, along with the driver and two bystanders outside a country store where the vehicle crashed.

The victims' relatives have been on an emotional roller coaster ever since. After pandemic-related delays in the criminal case, they were exasperated by a 2021 announcement of a plea deal that would have spared Hussain prison time. A surprise twist came last fall when a judge rejected the deal, setting up the trial this week a few miles down the road from the accident site. "All we can do is move on and hope that we can get justice," said Tom King, the father of four sisters killed in the crash. "It's not going to be closure for families that lost their kids. I mean, we lost four daughters and three sons-in-law in one shot. There's no way we'll ever make that up, no matter how many trials they have." Victim Axel Steenburg had hired the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine for an outing to celebrate the 30th birthday of his wife, Amy, who was King's daughter.

The group was headed to a brewery outside Cooperstown, New York. The passengers ranged in age from 24 to 34 and included Axel Steenburg's brother, Amy Steenburg's three sisters, and two of their husbands and close friends. The NTSB found evidence of brake failure on a long downhill stretch of road on the way to the brewery. The vehicle is believed to have reached speeds of more than 100mph when it blew through a stop sign at a T-intersection and hit a parked SUV and several trees before coming to rest in a streambed. Prosecutors say Hussain failed to properly maintain the limo and is to blame for the deaths. The NTSB found Prestige showed an "egregious disregard for safety" and took pains to avoid more stringent inspection rules intended to ensure the stretch vehicle had the braking capacity and other requirements for carrying a load heavier than it was initially built for.

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The vehicle had been ordered out of service by state transportation officials a month before the crash. Prosecutors argue Hussain removed an out-of-service sticker from the limo's windshield. The NTSB also said ineffective state oversight allowed Prestige to circumvent safety regulations and inspection requirements. State investigators say a Mavis Discount Tire store falsified billing invoices to make it appear there was brake work done on the limo that was not performed. Hussain's lawyers contend he tried to maintain the limousine and relied on what he was told by state officials and the repair shop. "Every day we talk about Nauman, the real perpetrators escape blame," said Lee Kindlon, an attorney for Hussain. "We're going to trial not just to defend an innocent man, but to spur real accountability for those who could have prevented this tragedy."

(More bus accident stories.)

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