WEIGHING IN – After the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people, investigators found the stretch limo’s state Department of Transportation out-of-service sticker crumpled inside the personal car of Nauman Hussain, the operator of the Prestige Limousine company whom prosecutors blame for the deadly incident.
The sticker, which had allegedly been removed from the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo, had Hussain’s DNA on it.
That seems like clear evidence Hussain, now 33, knew the vehicle was not supposed to be on the road and represented a significant safety risk. At the very least, the crumpled sticker should be enough for everyone to hope the high-profile and tragic case, which has been jolting in its stops and starts, heads to trial in May as scheduled.
Of course, Hussain’s defense attorneys are going to do their job, and they argue the crumpled decal is irrelevant to the case. As detailed by our reporter Ashley Onyon last week, the defense this month filed a legal brief as part of an appeal seeking to overturn state Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch’s unexpected decision last August to toss out a previously negotiated plea agreement. The defense’s brief argues the removed sticker had already been “deemed inconsequential” in the plea deal negotiated with Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery and accepted by former state Supreme Court Justice George R. Bartlett III in September 2021, Onyon reported.
“Removal of the sticker did not create a foreseeable risk of death from catastrophic brake failure,” the petitioning brief states.
But how exactly is an out-of-service sticker inconsequential? Isn’t the question of whether Hussain, as the operator of his father’s limo company, knowingly allowed an unsafe vehicle to remain on the road a central issue of the case? It’s his job to make sure his vehicles meet all state and federal standards.
While the originally accepted plea deal agreed “that the 2001 Ford Excursion was not placed out of service for defective brakes” at the time of the crash, the vehicle had known issues. On Sept. 4, 2018, the stretch limo failed inspection for a dangling anti-lock brake system line, lack of emergency exits and seating exceeding capacity, due to a missing federal identification sticker authorizing the vehicle to carry over 10 passengers, Onyon reported.
In addition, the limo was ordered off the road for brake issues by DOT in March 2018 – although there remain legitimate questions about whether Mavis actually completed repair work billed to the limo company.
Given these failings and uncertainty, it’s impossible not to at least wonder whether up-to-date certifications could have prevented the limo from having brakes that failed on Oct. 6, 2018, when the vehicle lost control on a steep section of Route 30 in Schoharie County, killing 17 friends heading to a birthday party, the limo’s driver and two bystanders.
“If one consciously removes a sticker from a vehicle that was placed on the vehicle by the authorities that it was out of service, that action is consistent with being aware of and consciously disregarding the risk,” Justice Lynch said last August, according to court documents.
The fact that the defense argues the sticker issue had already been sorted out in the 2021 plea agreement points to the deal’s woeful inadequacy. In fact, that deal came with probation but no expected jail time for 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide.
Twenty lives lost and no jail time?
No wonder so many people were as relieved as they were surprised when Lynch tossed out the deal last August.
The defense is likely working so hard to try to reinstate the original plea deal because they know it was about as good an agreement as they can get.
But I think the vast majority of us feel differently. We want this case to proceed toward a rightful conclusion that provides as much closure and justice for the families as possible.
We don’t want the case to be treated like an important out-of-service sticker, crumpled up and hidden away. We want everything ironed out and out in the open, once and for all.
Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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Hussain’s father was a CIA/FBI operative used in a few terrorist stings, some valid, one in Newburgh was a bogus set-up. The father rec’d special treatment in numerous legal entanglements as a thank you from the Government. The night of the bus crash handyman Michael Kornacki was shot to death at Hussains Wilton motel. The official explanation was 2 Mexican migrants in an adjoining room were playing with gun. It went off accidentally and the bullet went thru the wall, thru a refrigerator, and somehow into Michael Kornacki’s chest as he slept. Another Kennedy “Magic Bullet.” The “Mexican Migrants” were never identified in the paper and their pics were never shown. You never heard about their sentences, trials, deportation…..nothing! Believe me, one day this whole farce will be a movie…at least a Documentary. Unfortunately it won’t bring back the 20 people murdered in SChoharie nor Mr. Kornacki.