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Foss: Limousine should not have been on the road

Foss: Limousine should not have been on the road

Foss: Limousine should not have been on the road
A Monday state police briefing on the investigation
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette photographer

I've had cars that failed inspections and I reacted the way I suspect most people would react: by fixing the underlying problem. 

If the allegations against Nauman Hussain are to be believed, he took the opposite approach, keeping a stretch limousine that failed two inspections, in March and September, on the road. 

Let's be clear: We don't know what caused the deadly limousine accident that killed 20 people at a rural intersection in Schoharie on Saturday. 

But it's quite possible all those people would still be alive today had Hussain simply taken the aging 2001 Ford Explorer out of service, as he had been told to do. 

In other words, Hussain has only himself to blame for his arrest on Wednesday, when he was charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the devastating accident. 

Hussain operates Prestige Limousine, the Saratoga County-based company owned by his father, the sketchy former FBI informant Shahed "Malik" Hussain, who is currently overseas. 

Hussain's attorney, Lee Kindlon, is trying his darndest to blame the state for the accident, saying the intersection is known to be dangerous and that officials failed to address this. 

These comments smack of desperation. 

Because if anything sounds dangerous, it's the oversized death trap Hussain used to ferry paying customers around. 

If anyone sounds negligent, it's Hussain, whose vehicles had failed four of five inspections in the last two years -- a failure rate, according to federal records, of 80 percent. That's four times the national average for limousine companies. 

Among the issues cited by inspectors: faulty brakes.

It's easy to roll your eyes at state and federal rules and grumble about the nanny state, but there's a reason we require motor vehicles to be inspected regularly and come outfitted with certain safety features, such as seatbelts. 

We do these things because cars are dangerous and common sense rules and strict regulation saves lives. Flouting these rules and regulations demonstrates a callous disregard for the safety of those around you.

Of course, the lack of oversight for stretch limousines might also be a factor in Saturday's accident. 

Somewhat remarkably, passengers are not required to wear seat belts. 

The vehicles themselves are not necessarily required to meet federal safety requirements. According to a New York Times report, "By federal law, vehicle interiors are designed, in part, as cages that deflect the forces of a crash away from the passengers. The modifications to create a stretch limo eliminate some of those protections. In making the vehicle longer, side rollover pillars and airbags are removed or become useless."

Again, this sounds pretty dangerous. 

It makes me wonder whether any stretch limousine -- not just those owned by Prestige Limousine -- ought to be permitted on public roads.

What seems pretty clear is that Prestige Limousine deserves all the scrutiny it's getting -- and that if your car fails inspection, you should do us all a favor and keep it off the road. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.   

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