SCHOHARIE — The criminal charges against Nauman Hussain stemming from last year’s limousine crash that killed 20 people will go to trial, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
Schoharie County Court Judge George R. Bartlett III in a 16-page decision issued last Tuesday afternoon refused to grant a defense request that the second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges against Hussain be dismissed as “legally insufficient.”
Barlett ruled in response to a motion from defense attorneys Lee Kindlon and Joseph Tacopina that sought dismissal of the charges and other pre-trial decisions.
Hussain, 29, of Wilton, faces 20 counts each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in connection with the stretch limousine crash on Oct. 6, 2018, that killed 20 people: the driver, 17 adult passengers on a birthday outing, and two pedestrians. The 2001 Ford Excursion came down a long hill on state Route 30 and went through the stop sign at Route 30A, struck two pedestrians in the Apple Barrel Country Store parking lot and crashed into a ravine.
Prosecutors contend the vehicle suffered a catastrophic brake failure due to improper maintenance of the brakes and other mechanical issues. They claim Hussain, operator of Prestige Limousines, knew of the brake problems but did not address them properly and therefore the crash was foreseeable.
The defense says Hussain relied on mechanics at Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs to maintain the vehicle, and Mavis bears responsibility. Hussain, they said in a filing last week, is the “scapegoat” in a highly emotional and sensational case.
Bartlett didn’t address the charges in detail, but said the evidence the grand jury heard last spring was sufficient to bring the indictment. He cited prior cases in which manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide charges were brought in connection with a vehicle crash.
“After reviewing the evidence presented to the Grand Jury in light of the case law set forth, and as it must, in the light most favorable to the People, the Court finds it is legally sufficient to sustain the charges set forth in the indictment,” Bartlett wrote.
Bartlett said questions about the cause of the crash and whether it was foreseeable should be settled by a trial jury.
Bartlett said has scheduled a hearing, called a Huntley hearing, on the defense’s request to suppress a series of statements Hussain made to state transportation inspectors or investigators starting in March 2018, when a state Department of Transportation vehicle inspector first spoke with him about mechanical issues with the vehicle and that it wasn’t properly inspected and registered for its passenger capacity.
The Huntley hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 4, in Schoharie County Court, and will continue it on Wednesday, Nov. 6, if necessary, Bartlett said.
Barlett granted a defense request to be allowed to inspect the grand jury minutes that led to the indictment against Hussain, though it denied a defense request to release them publicly.
Bartlett also said he will hold a hearing immediately prior to the trial on whether any prior run-ins with the law or other “bad acts” can be brought up, if Hussain chooses to testify in his own defense.
The trial is currently scheduled to start March 9 in Schoharie County Court.
Many of the adults who died in the crash were from the Amsterdam area, where the tragedy has had a devastating impact.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News