SCHOHARIE — A federal probe of the Oct. 6 stretch limousine crash that killed 20 people continues, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report released Monday.
“All aspects of the Schoharie, New York, crash remain under investigation as the NTSB focuses on determining the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes,” the agency stated.
The preliminary report adds few new details to what was previously known about the crash and the vehicle involved. The agency indicated it has yet to reach a conclusion about the probable cause.
The crash occurred when a “stretched” 2001 Ford Excursion went through a stop sign at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A at 1:55 p.m. on a Saturday, crashing into a vehicle in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store and killing all 17 passengers in the limo, as well as the driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot.
“A witness in a vehicle that was stopped on NY-30 at the intersection stated that the limousine traveled through the intersection at a high rate of speed,” the report states.
The party of young adults was en route from Amsterdam to a Cooperstown brewery to celebrate a birthday, with unidentified “intermediate stops.” The two people in the parking lot were killed as they were walking towards their 2015 Toyota Highlander, and the limousine struck the Highlander, causing it to strike the pedestrians. The limo then went into a small ravine and collided with the earth embankment on its side.
The preliminary report in NTSB investigations is typically issued within a few weeks of the accident, but in this case, it was slowed by a dispute between the NTSB, the Schoharie County district attorney’s office and state police over access to the limousine, which is also at the center of a criminal investigation into the crash.
An agreement reached Jan. 29 between the NTSB and the other parties, following a hearing before Schoharie County Court Judge George Bartlett III, finally gave the NTSB access to examine and photograph the vehicle.
Nauman Hussain of Cohoes, the operator of Prestige Limo of Wilton, faces a charge of criminally negligent homicide, after a state police determination the vehicle should not have been on the road, due to failed inspections, and that driver Scott Licinicchia, 53,of Queensbury, did not have the proper license to transport so many passengers.
The state police investigation is continuing. A final NTSB report is still more than a year away, and as part of the access agreement, the NTSB has agreed to withhold certain information until the criminal case is resolved.
Since the NTSB-state police agreement was reached, the limousine has been moved into a permanent storage structure provided by the NTSB at state police Troop G headquarters in Latham, said state police spokesman Beau Duffy.
He said the criminal investigation is ongoing, with no updates available.
The federal safety investigation is focused to a large extent on whether stretch limousines that are modified after rolling off the assembly line are safe. Transportation safety advocates say post-manufacturing modifications fall into a gap in federal regulations. Proposals now in Congress could change that, but action is unlikely before the NTSB makes its report.
The report notes that the Excursion’s original 137-inch-long wheelbase was lengthened to 180 inches, increasing the seating capacity to 18 people, including the driver. To accommodate the additional passenger capacity, new non-original manufacturer seats were installed, and the seats and lap seatbelts were not forward-facing, as in a traditional seating configuration, the report found.
The capacity of the vehicle brought it under the inspection protocols of the state Department of Transportation, and the Excursion failed DOT inspections because of issues including brake performance — but the vehicle remained on the road.
“The National Transportation Safety Board continues to gather information on the modifications and mechanical condition of the vehicle, the seat belt usage and survivability of the passengers, and the oversight of the passenger-carrying operation of the New York State Department of Transportation and New York State Department of Motor Vehicle,” the report states.
NTSB officials said they are working with the state police, state oversight agencies, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford Motor Co.
The crash was the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since a 2009 plane crash, and the deadliest motor vehicle accident since 2005.