AMSTERDAM — Linda King has been one of the people most affected by the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash, losing four daughters and three sons-in-law in the horrific wreck.
Nearly two years after the crash that killed 20 people, with word that limo company operator Nauman Hussain may plea-bargain the criminal charges against him, King said she’s willing to wait longer, hoping for a trial, or that any plea will require Hussain to tell the truth about the crash’s circumstances.
“We all understand the delays caused by COVID, but we are willing to wait for what’s just and fair,” King said Friday at the Century Club in Amsterdam, where about a dozen family members of victims gathered, to push their case that Hussain be required to give a full accounting as part of any plea agreement.
The King family, of Amsterdam, has sought privacy in their grief. Linda King has seldom if ever spoken in public about the tragic deaths.
Her relatives, she said, died after planning a “fun-filled day” to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday at a Cooperstown brewery. “They did the right thing that day by hiring a limousine,” she said. “They knew you don’t drink and drive.”
The 17 passengers, who were from or had connections to Amsterdam, nevertheless lost their lives on Oct. 6, 2018, when the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine suffered catastrophic brake failure as it came down a long hill on state Route 30 in Schoharie.
The speeding vehicle went through the stop sign at Route 30A and crashed. All the passengers were killed, along with the driver and two pedestrians.
Hussain, 30, operator of Prestige Limousine of Wilton, faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, now pending in Schoharie County Court.
The criminal charges are based on investigators’ conclusions that he failed to properly maintain the limousine’s mechanical systems, including its brakes — and also sought to hide the defects from regulators. He kept the aging vehicle on the road after it failed a commercial vehicle inspection, prosecutors say.
Hussain’s defense is expected to argue, at least in part, that Hussain relied in good faith on the Mavis Discount Tire shop in Saratoga Springs to maintain the vehicle, including its brakes. Mavis does not face criminal charges — but has been named in some of the civil lawsuits arising from the crash.
While Mavis has expressed sympathy for the victims, it has denied any legal responsibility for what happened.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in Schoharie County Court on May 4, but was delayed indefinitely as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state court system in the spring. While many court functions have now resumed, it remains unclear when jury trials will return, or how they will be conducted.
Against that background, the victims’ families have been asked to prepare victim impact statements — a development that could portend a plea bargain agreement. Hussain’s lawyers and Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery held a private conference with the judge on Wednesday, but no word emerged from it.
At Friday’s press conference, three attorneys for victims’ families and several family members spoke. They asked that any plea agreement require Hussain to provide, under oath, a full public accounting of events leading up to the crash — what in legal terms is called an “allocution.”
“These families want and deserve a complete allocution from this man,” said attorney Cynthia LaFave of Guilderland, who represents the estate of Abigail King Jackson and Adam Jackson. “We know that the owner and Mavis have made conflicting assertions about these matters that led up to putting this deathtrap back on the road.”
“Mr. Hussain is in a unique position, if he is actually going to plea, to help these families,” said Thomas J. Mortati of Martin, Harding & Mazotti of Niskayuna, who represents the family of Savannah D. Bursese of Johnstown.
Any statements Hussain makes in court could be used in future civil proceedings. In general, the criminal case will need to be settled before the numerous civil cases filed against Hussain, Mavis and the state Department of Transportation can proceed.
“If we know the truth, we can in fact pursue justice on the civil level,” LaFave said.
Lee Kindlon of Albany, the lead attorney in Hussain’s defense, implicitly acknowledged plea negotiations are underway. “We are in the midst of a delicate and deliberative process. Out of respect for that process, I cannot comment further,” he said by email on Friday.
Mallery has consistently said she is unable to comment on developments outside the courtroom.
Hussain is free on $450,000 bail. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter, but a plea bargain could reduce his sentence to as little as probation.