WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday opened to public inspection a series of reports on the deadly Schoharie limousine crash of 2018.
The stretched SUV was carrying 17 passengers from Amsterdam to the Cooperstown area for a birthday party the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2018. The driver came down the long Route 30 hill, passed a stop sign at high speed, crossed Route 30A, and smashed into another SUV and a ravine. All 17 passengers were killed, as were the driver and two bystanders in the Apple Barrel parking lot.
Suspicion has been centered on the 2001 Ford Excursion’s brake system.
Nauman 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, for allegedly failing to maintain the vehicle’s mechanical systems.
The NTSB opened the docket of its investigation Wednesday, making hundreds of pages of investigative reports public. These are findings of fact, a spokesman said, not a determination of cause or an analysis of blame. The analytic phase comes next.
Among the details:
- The T intersection where Route 30 turns 90 degrees to the south and Route 30A ends was the scene of nearly 200 accidents from Jan. 1, 2013, to Sept. 22, 2018, none of them fatal — 97 crashes resulting in only property damage, 39 resulting in injury and 60 non-reportable, ie, resulting in no injuries and less than $1,000 worth of damage.
- The roughly 1.8-mile stretch of Route 30 between Route 7 and the Route 30A intersection contains a roughly 1.0-mile hill with a grade of as much as 11.35 percent, or 11.35 feet altitude change in a 100-foot stretch. The curves on the road are rated satisfactory for the posted speed limit of 55 mph.
- The 2001 Ford Excursion was stretched to nearly 31 feet in length and, with passengers, weighed approximately 13,500 pounds as it started down the Route 30 hill. Its brake system showed signs of substantial degradation; the hilly route and stop lights between Amsterdam and Schoharie may have resulted in usage of the brakes that further weakened them before the crash. As previously reported, it had a history of failed inspections.
- Exactly 13 months before the crash, the Prestige Limousine driver who would be at the wheel of the doomed limo, Scott Lisinicchia, underwent what would be his last Commercial Drivers License medical exam. He indicated he was not taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies or diet supplements; had no cholesterol or stomach problems; had never had mental health problems; and had never spent a night in a hospital.
- His medical records indicate his active medical conditions included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar I disorder; a history of marijuana and cocaine use; voluntary admission for 48 hours to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation; and high cholesterol and gastric reflux.
- Pharmacy records indicate that in the four weeks before the crash, he filled prescriptions for medications prescribed for schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, partial seizures and gastroesophageal reflux.
- Toxicology results indicated the presence in his blood and tissues of tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana, as well as the depression and heartburn medicines. No other illegal drugs or alcohol were detected.
- Cellphone records indicate Lisinicchia was not using his phone at or near the time of crash.
- His eyesight was rated 20/20 at his last exam.
- The NTSB was unable to obtain a copy of Lisinicchia’s autopsy. However, his death certificate indicates he died of severe traumatic blunt force, and that death was instantaneous.
- The day they died, the passengers were in this particular limo by chance and circumstance after two other limos were canceled. The party had a reservation with another company, but that limo had problems so the passengers called Prestige. Lisinicchia was dispatched to drive. After he left, he told his wife by phone that he had to “switch the limo out” before picking up the party.
- Lisinicchia’s wife later told investigators that he had mechanical problems about every third time he drove for Prestige, and had in the past refused to drive until a problem was fixed.
- Lisinicchia picked up the passengers in Amsterdam, drove west to Fonda on the Thruway, drove south on Route 30A to Central Bridge, drove east on Route 7 and then turned southwest onto Route 30. (It was a circuitous route — Route 30 is a comparatively straight shot from Amsterdam to the crash site — but the reports released Wednesday offer no speculation on why the driver followed this meandering path. That would be addressed in the analysis stage, the NTSB spokesman.)
- About 20 minutes before the crash, a passenger sent a text to another person not in the vehicle that the limo “sounds like it is going to explode.”
- A passing motorist told investigators the limo driver looked confused or frazzled an estimated one to two minutes before the crash.
- Two other witnesses saw the driver pull onto the shoulder with his flashers on at the intersection of Routes 7 and 30. The two witnesses passed the limo, drove down the 30 hill and stopped at the 30/30A intersection. They heard a noise like a jet plane and saw the limo in the rear view mirror, approaching at a high rate of speed. It swerved around them and sped through the intersection. No brakes were audible, no brake lights were visible as it passed.
- The limo hit a Toyota Highlander parked in a field near the Apple Barrel Country Store, sending it hurtling across a shallow ravine and killing two bystanders in its path. The limo hit the backslope of the ravine and several trees there before coming to rest in a small stream at the bottom.
- Vehicle data recorders were of little use in the investigation, as the Toyota wasn’t running and the limo’s recorders captured little information.