Trial date set for Schoharie limo crash case; Judge previously rejected plea deal

Nauman Hussain enters an awaiting vehicle outside the Schoharie County Courthouse Aug. 31

Nauman Hussain enters an awaiting vehicle outside the Schoharie County Courthouse Aug. 31

SCHOHARIE – A criminal trial resulting from the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people has been scheduled to begin May 1.

State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch set the date Wednesday in Schoharie County Court two weeks after the judge rejected a plea deal and allowed limo company operator Nauman Hussain, 32, to withdraw a guilty plea issued last September.

Lynch said he attempted to set the trial for dates in October and December, but Hussain’s attorney Lee Kindlon had conflicts with other trials. In addition, Lynch said Schoharie County District Attorney Susan J. Mallery reached out regarding the start date.

“I did also receive a letter from the district attorney’s office indicating the need to also have some additional time to prepare the case for trial,” Lynch said.

All of this led to the May 1 date.

“That essentially gives everyone six months or so to get this case ready for trial,” said Lynch, noting that he will be retaining jurisdiction.

Kindlon, who appeared virtually Wednesday along with attorney Chad Seigel, did not return multiple messages left with his office Wednesday. Seigel also did not return a message left with his office.

Mallery, who was present Wednesday, declined comment.

Lynch said Hussain’s statements made at the time of his Sept. 2, 2021 plea will not be admissible as direct evidence in the upcoming trial. The statements also can’t be used in any attempts to impeach the case, the judge outlined. Same goes for any statements Hussain made to the probation department in the context of pretrial supervision, statements Hussain made while engaging in the community service that was part of the plea agreement, and any statement made by Hussain in any civil proceeding between the date of the plea and Aug. 31, the judge said.

“I am not insensitive to the issue that there had been a previous plea of guilty on September 2, 2021,” Lynch reminded those in court Wednesday. “And, of course, as you all know, I advised you on August 31, 2022, that the plea agreement that had been entered into by the parties was unacceptable to me, and I allowed the defense an opportunity to move to withdraw the plea, which I granted.”

In rejecting the plea deal two weeks ago, Lynch gave Hussain a choice between withdrawing his guilty plea and accepting a 15- to 48-month prison sentence, the maximum possible term for his role in the 2018 crash.

Hussain, who was in the courtroom Wednesday but left quickly after the hearing, has faced 40 counts — 20 manslaughter in the second degree and 20 criminally negligent homicide charges — stemming from the Oct. 6, 2018 crash that killed 17 passengers, the limo driver and two bystanders.

The Daily Gazette has previously reported that the crash involved a group of 17 friends from the Amsterdam area who had hired Prestige Limousine of Wilton to take them to Cooperstown for a birthday outing.

The vehicle that arrived was a 2001 SUV stretched into a 31-foot, 13,500-pound limo, the Gazette reported. It lost its brakes on the long descent down Route 30, hurtled across the intersection with Route 30A at an estimated 100 mph, then hit a parking car and an embankment beyond, police told the Gazette.

All 17 passengers were killed, as were the driver and two bystanders.

Hussain, who is the only person to face criminal charges related to the crash, was arrested but promptly released on bail and remained free as a multiagency investigation dragged on and COVID-related court delays slowed progress, the Gazette reported. Ultimately, investigators fixed on Hussain’s failure to maintain the limo as the cause of the crash but they noted numerous potential contributing factors beyond this.

Last September, State Supreme Court Justice George R. Bartlett III accepted Hussain’s guilty pleas to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide. The rest of the original indictment — 20 counts of the more serious charge of second-degree manslaughter — would be dismissed.

In return, Hussain would serve an interim period of probation and community service, but no prison time. If he completed that successfully, he’d be sentenced to an additional term of probation, the Gazette reported.

Had he been convicted at trial, his maximum sentence on all 20 counts would have been the same as one count — 1 1/3 to four years — because they all resulted from the same act of negligence, the Gazette reported.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Lynch set a pretrial hearing for April 10 at 10 a.m.

“Under no circumstances will this trial be delayed by any failure on the part of either party to meaningfully engage in the pretrial discovery process and the timely filing of certificates of compliance,” Lynch said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, News, Saratoga County

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