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Driver in New York limo crash goes to court

SCHOHARIE, New York –

Nearly five years after a limousine full of birthday partygoers plunged down a hill and off a road in rural New York, killing 20 people, the operator of the rental company This vehicle is on trial.

Nauman Hussain, Prestige Limousine operator, was charged with criminal negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the October 6, 2018 crash — one of the fatal traffic accidents. in the United States in the last two decades — in Schoharie, a village west of Albany.

Jury selection began Monday in Schoharie County Courthouse for a trial that is expected to last at least four weeks.

Seventeen people who used the limo to celebrate a birthday were killed, along with the driver and two bystanders outside a rural shop where the vehicle crashed.

Relatives of the victims have been through an emotional roller coaster since then. After the pandemic-related delay in the criminal case, they were exasperated by the announcement in 2021 of a plea agreement that could save Hussain from jail. An unexpected twist came last fall when a judge rejected the deal, setting up a trial this week a few miles from the crash site.

Tom King, father of four sisters who died in the crash, said: “All we can do is move on and hope that we can get justice. “It’s not going to end with families who lost children. I mean, we lost four daughters and three sons-in-law in one shot. There’s no way we can make up for that, even if we don’t. How many trials did they go through?”

Victim Axel Steenburg rented a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine to celebrate the 30th birthday of his wife, Amy, King’s daughter.

The group is heading 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, two husbands and their best friend.

The National Transportation Safety Board found evidence of a brake failure occurring on a long downhill stretch on the way to the brewery. The vehicle is believed to have reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour) when it sped past a stop sign at a T-junction and crashed into a parked SUV with some trees before plunging into a stream bed. .

Prosecutors allege that Hussain failed to properly service the limo and was responsible for the death. Schoharie District Attorney Susan Mallery did not return a call seeking comment.

The National Transportation Safety Board found the Prestige had shown a “serious disregard for safety” and tried to avoid more stringent testing rules to ensure the vehicle was capable of stretching. brakes and other requirements for carrying loads heavier than originally built.

The vehicle was ordered decommissioned by state transportation officials a month before the crash following an inspection as part of Prestige’s investigation of operating without proper certification. Prosecutors argued that Hussain removed an expired sticker from the windshield of the limo.

But criminal cases are complicated. The NTSB also says ineffective state oversight has allowed Prestige to circumvent safety regulations and testing requirements.

There was also a problem with the shop that Hussain used to do repairs. State investigators say a Mavis Discount Tire store forged a payment receipt to make it appear that brake work was performed on the limo but was not done.

Hussain’s lawyers allege he attempted to service the limousine and relied on what he was told by state officials and the repair shop.

“We talk every day about Nauman, the real culprit not to be blamed. We’re going to trial not just to defend an innocent person, but to promote real accountability to those who should have been. could have prevented this tragedy,” said Lee Kindlon, Hussain’s attorney. said in an email.

In an email, a Mavis spokesperson expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, calling their payment policies “honest, fair and reasonable” and saying the company ” assume no liability for this tragedy.”

The plea agreement announced in 2021 calls for Hussain to plead guilty only to criminal negligent homicide. Under the agreement, he will be placed on probation for five years and perform 1,000 hours of community service, but not jail time.

Kevin Cushing, who lost his son, Patrick Cushing, in the shipwreck, said: “We are completely traumatized by that.

A year later, an unexpected reversal occurred when a judge dismissed the agreement because of “fundamental flaws”. Justice Peter Lynch, who did not preside over the case when the settlement was reached, argued that Hussain’s actions prior to the collision showed he knew the risks of taking the limousine out onto the street and only pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. Criminal does not reflect that.

Hussain later withdrew his plea, paving the way for a trial expected to last about six weeks.

Cushing is among relatives scheduled to appear in court and be prepared to testify. He felt indebted to his son Patrick, his son’s girlfriend Amanda Halse, and the others in the limousine that fall day.

“It won’t be easy,” Cushing said. “A lot of things in life aren’t easy, but there are some things you need to do.”

The prestige was owned at the time of the crash by Hussain’s father, Shahed Hussain, a former paid FBI informant known for his role in a controversial series of domestic terrorism investigations. controversy before he returned to his native Pakistan. He has not been charged.

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Hill contributed from Albany, New York.



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