State limo safety legislation proposed after Schoharie crash

Federal investigators still on the scene in Schoharie
A funeral was held for Erin and Shane McGowan at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Amsterdam Monday.
A funeral was held for Erin and Shane McGowan at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Amsterdam Monday.

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CAPITOL — With federal and state investigators continuing to probe the Oct. 6 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people, a state senator has introduced legislation that would establish new criminal charges involving transporting people in old, unsafe limousines.

The bill, introduced Friday by state Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, would require stretch limos for hire to be no more than 10 years old. It would also make it a felony to transport passengers in a stretch limo that has failed inspection.

The call for safety measures for the limousine industry came as funerals for victims of the tragedy continued. A service for eight of the closely related victims was held on Saturday, and more services took place on Sunday.

A memorial Mass for Rachael Cavosie took place Monday at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Waterford, and Shane and Erin McGowan, newlyweds from Amsterdam, also had funeral Masses and were buried on Monday.

A viewing for Michael Ukaj will be held at AG Cole Funeral Home in Johnstown on Tuesday. His memorial service will be conducted at the funeral home at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, followed by his burial service at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery at 2 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board and state police on Monday were still investigating the crash at routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie.

Those killed include the driver, all 17 passengers celebrating a birthday and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. The 2001 Ford Excursion, which was “stretched” to increase its capacity after manufacture, went through the stop sign at Route 30 and through the Apple Barrel parking lot before going over a short embankment.

State investigators have already said the vehicle failed inspections in March and September, with brake problems cited in both inspections. The operator of the limo company, Prestige Limousine of Wilton, has been charged with criminally negligent homicide. Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes, the son of company owner Shahed Hussain, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $150,000 bond.

NTSB investigators remained on the scene Monday, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said. He said a preliminary report that will recap what happened should come out within a few weeks, but it won’t contain conclusions. A full report with conclusions and recommendations for improving safety could take up to two years, Weiss said last week.

Felder’s proposed “Stretch Limousine Safety Act” would require that no stretch limousines be in use for more than 10 years — the vehicle in the Schoharie crash was 18 years old — and that operators be insured for at least $2 million per accident. Operating without the insurance or proof of insurance would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

The act would also create a new low-level felony for anyone operating a stretch limo that has failed inspection and would allow any such vehicle to be impounded. A sticker saying the vehicle had either passed or failed inspection would be required to be affixed to the passenger-side front door. Operators of stretch limos would also be required to attend a safety training course.

A spokeswoman for Felder said that out if respect for the grieving families, he would not comment until after all the funerals have been completed.

The bill, which does not yet have a co-sponsor, has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Felder’s proposal is the first in the state Legislature, but New York’s two U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, on Friday urged the NTSB to recommend new rules for stretch vehicles, which generally fall outside the scope of federal auto safety regulations.

On Sunday, Schumer said the NTSB could have launched a more-detailed probe after a 2015 stretch limo crash on Long Island that killed four women.

“The sad fact here is that, right now, everyone is talking about limo safety when we could have been studying it for the past few years,” Schumer said on Sunday.

“These stretch limos exist in a gray area — they are not a car and they are not a bus — and that’s the problem here, and it’s one we need to address at the federal level to save the most lives. The bottom line is that the end of the road for dangerous stretch limos demands new safety measures,” Schumer said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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