SCHOHARIE — Nauman Hussain’s failure to properly maintain the brakes and other mechanical systems on the aging limousine involved in last year’s deadly crash in Schoharie makes him criminally responsible for the 20 deaths, the Schoharie County district attorney says in new court filings.
Hussain faces second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in the Oct. 6, 2018 crash that killed 20 people — the driver, 17 passengers and two pedestrians.
“The defendant specifically knew or should have known that the limousine has compromised brake components and many other neglected parts,” District Attorney Susan Mallery wrote in response to a defense motion to dismiss the indictment. “The limousine was improperly inspected, had an improperly licensed driver, was improperly registered and improperly maintained.”
The response was submitted to Schoharie County Court Judge George R. Barlett III last week and released Monday evening. It includes more than 450 pages of material, from a summary of 911 transmissions to a copy of the owner’s manual for a 2001 Ford Excursion SUV, which had been stretched after manufacturing to increase seating capacity and turn it into a limousine.
Hussain’s defense attorneys, Lee Kindlon of Albany and Joseph Tacopina of New York City, filed a motion in early September to dismiss the charges; the filings released Monday were Mallery’s response.
The defense has asserted that the circumstances of the fatal crash could not have been foreseen and the charges should be dismissed for insufficient evidence.
Hussain, 29, of Wilton, was the operator of Prestige Limousine of Wilton, which owned the stretch limousine involved in the crash. The vehicle came down a long hill on Route 30 in Schoharie on the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend in 2018, went through a stop sign at Route 30A, through the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, and into a short ravine. It struck and killed two people in the parking lot as it passed through.
Prosecutors believe the brake’s failed as it came down the hill. In her response, Mallery laid out several instances in which Hussain was told in the months before the crash that the vehicle had brake issues: in March and September 2018 by a state Department of Transportation inspector who placed the vehicle “out of service;” and by a store manager when Hussain had the limousine inspected at the Mavis Discount Tire store in Saratoga Springs on May 11, 2018.
Hussain is accused of removing the “out of service” sticker from the vehicle and taking the limousine to Mavis for a state Department of Motor Vehicles inspection even though vehicles that can carry 15 or more passengers are supposed to go through a separate DOT inspection system.
“If the defendant had tried to properly inspect and register the limousine, it likely would not have been on the road without extensive and costly repairs,” Mallery wrote, going on to cite the relevant regulations. “These regulations and others, which the defendant completely ignored, exist for a reason: to protect the passengers in commercial vehicles and members of the public.”
In a September interview with investigators that was disclosed recently in a letter Mallery sent to the defense, former Mavis shop manager Virgil Parks said the shop didn’t perform the brake work Hussain was billed for. The defense said that reinforced its argument that the charges against Hussain should be dismissed and asserted that Mavis was responsible for the fatal brake failure.
“Mavis’s fraudulent conduct — not anything undertaken by defendant Nauman Hussain — was the true legal cause of the accident,” Tacopina wrote to the judge.
Mallery disputed that in a letter filed with the court last week, and also in her response motion.
“According to interviews with Mavis employees and confirmed with Mavis surveillance footage, on April 30, 2018, a Mavis employee had a conversation with the Mavis manager. The employee told the supervisor that, if the repair was to be right, the limousine needed all new hoses, all new calipers, and a master cyclinder,” Mallery wrote. “The manager had told the employee, he had told the defendant it was a temporary repair, but the defendant was selling the limousine.”
During the May 11 inspection at Mavis, Mallery said interviews and surveillance video footage show that Hussain was informed of the brake issues. Parks, she said, “informs the defendant that the limousine has ‘brakes now and I’m hoping it stays that way because if it happens again you’re gonna need the other three calipers.”
Mallery also said that at least one driver working for Hussain refused to drive the Excursion after an incident during the 2017 prom season in which the brakes didn’t respond after he put the brake pedal “pretty much the floor.” Mallery said Hussain simply found someone else to drive the vehicle.
The district attorney also said that Hussain was aware that Scott Lisinicchia of Lake George, who was driving the limousine on the Schoharie trip and was killed in the crash, didn’t have the proper license to transport such a large party, because a state trooper told him during a traffic stop in August 2018 in which Lisinicchia was driving the vehicle.
Kindlon said Monday night that a formal rebuttal will be submitted to the court, but the defense wouldn’t be responding to Mallery’s filing through the press.
The exchanges between the prosecutor and defense will leave the decision in the hands of Judge Bartlett whether to dismiss the charges. Dismissal motions are routine in criminal cases, and they are seldom granted.
If the charges are not dismissed, a trial in Schoharie County Court is tentatively slated for March. If convicted of the manslaughter charges — the most serious — Hussain faces up to 25 years in state prison.