Mavis manager told operator to ‘burn’ limo months ahead of crash – Schoharie limo trial testimony Wednesday

Defense attorney Lee Kindlon, left, stands with his client, Nauman Hussain on Monday

Defense attorney Lee Kindlon, left, stands with his client, Nauman Hussain on Monday

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SCHOHARIE — The former manager of the Mavis Discount Tire repair shop in Saratoga Springs that serviced the limousine involved in the deadly Oct. 6, 2018 crash that killed 20 testified Wednesday that he told the vehicle’s operator to “burn” the limo in the months leading up to the crash.

But Virgil Park also admitted the shop he oversaw charged for brake work on the 2001 Ford Excursion SUV involved in the wreck that was never performed and that he was unaware the shop did not have authorization to inspect the vehicle. And a separate mechanic from the shop testified that Park “pressured” him to place a DMV inspection sticker on the SUV without actually completing the work.

“I never inspected the limousine,” said Thomas Klingman, the mechanic who said Park pressured him. “He’s my boss, I’m not looking to get fired,” he added. 

The testimony by the former Mavis employees marked the third day of the trial against 33-year-old Nauman Hussain, the operator of Prestige Limousine & Chauffeur Service, the Wilton-based company that rented the troubled stretched SUV to a group of 17 friends from the Amsterdam area that would later crash after the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure descending a steep hill on state Route 30.  

All 17 passengers, the vehicle’s driver and two bystanders were killed in what remains the deadliest automobile wreck the country has seen in more than a decade.

Hussain faces 20 counts each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for his alleged role in the crash, which prosecutors say includes failing to maintain the vehicle and intentionally skirting state regulations, including rigorous Department of Transportation inspections that could have prevented the crash.

But Lee Kindlon, an attorney for Hussain, has sought to blame the crash on Mavis, who he said told his client that the vehicle’s brakes had been properly serviced in the months leading up to the crash. 

Mavis faces a number of civil lawsuits from the families of the victims for its alleged failure to properly service the vehicle.

“The scope of Mavis’ mistakes, I think, were finally brought to bare today,” Kindlon said following Wednesday’s proceedings. “The callousness in which they described their decisions, which led to safety violations, which led to the death of 20 people was just kind of a dismissive ‘who cares, I just didn’t want to get fired’ attitude.”

Hussain brought the limo to the Mavis repair shop for a brake service in May 2018, about two months after the vehicle failed a roadside inspection and was taken out-of-service by DOT inspector Chad Smith. Smith testified Tuesday about failed efforts to bring the vehicle into compliance for more than a year leading up to the crash. 

Smith said during the March 2018 inspection, he discovered a pair of vice grips crimping a rubber brake line near a rear tire of the vehicle and notified Hussain that the brakes did not work properly. He placed an “out-of-service” sticker on the vehicle’s windshield and informed the operator of the issues.

But Park said that when the vehicle was brought to his shop two months later, there was no sticker on the windshield and the vice grips were not present. Mechanics, however, discovered a “red substance” coming from the vehicle’s brake lines that Park identified as transmission fluid.  

He said that Hussain called a month earlier and notified him that transmission fluid was incorrectly used as brake fluid and asked for advice on what to do. Park said he told Hussain to remove the fluid and bring the vehicle to a shop to have the brake lines flushed. 

But when the vehicle was brought to the Mavis shop on May 11, 2018, Park said that Hussain ordered him to do “the bare minimum” because he needed to have the vehicle back on the road as soon as possible. Mechanics replaced the rear brake pads and calipers and bled the vehicle’s brakes (which removes air from the brake lines) and completed a DMV inspection.

“He [Hussain] said he wanted it back on the road, so we did what the customer asked,” Park said. 

Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery, who is prosecuting the case, focused much of her questioning on the fact that the only reason the DMV inspection was allowed to go through was because the vehicle was improperly registered as a passenger vehicle and not a motor carrier passenger vehicle, which require separate DOT inspections. 

The Excursion SUV — which was stretched 144 inches and weighed 7 tons at the time of the crash — returned to the Mavis shop for brake service in June and July 2018, when Park suggested Hussain get rid of the vehicle.

“I actually told him to burn it,” he said. 

But Kindlon focused much of his questioning on a service receipt Hussain received from the repair shop that showed the shop replaced the vehicle’s brake master cylinder and the entire brake system was flushed — work that Park admitted the shop had mistakenly charged for.

The cylinder was returned to its original point of purchase on May 12, 2018.

Park admitted he never informed Hussain that the master cylinder was never replaced despite the vehicle coming in for brake work on two separate occasions. Park said he first revealed the information to police investigators in 2019 following the crash.  

“You were the manager of Mavis and now you’re telling us you didn’t know what your workers were doing?” Kindlon said.

Kindlon also focused on a DMV inspection sticker and questioned Park about why the company completed the inspection on the limo despite a state regulation prohibiting such inspections that came down in 2011.

Park said he wasn’t aware of the regulation and did not keep up with DMV inspection regulations despite managing a repair shop. 

Park said he ordered Klingman to use his personal inspection card after the mechanic said he did not want to do the inspection — a violation of DMV regulations that require each certified inspector to use only a card. 

“Let’s just get it done,” Park said he told Klingman.

Kindlon also grilled Klingman, asking why he violated state vehicle inspection regulations and ran off a list of things that need to be checked before a vehicle can pass inspection, including brake lines, calipers and serpentine belts. 

At one point, Klingman pushed back on the attorney.

“I see you’re trying to get to me,” he said. 

Klingman added: “I did go through the system and pass everything without checking.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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