COLONIE & SCHOHARIE -- State police on Wednesday arrested the son of the owner of Prestige Limousine on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in connection with Saturday's horrendous limousine crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people.
Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes, was taken into custody at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday in a controlled traffic stop on Interstate-787 in Watervliet and brought to state police Troop G headquarters in Latham, where was arrested on a single count Wednesday morning, police said.
Hussain pleaded not guilty at arraignment Wednesday evening in Cobleskill Town Court. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or a $150,000 bond. His attorney, Lee Kindlon, said he will post the bond. Hussain, wearing a black t-shirt, gray shorts and sneakers, described himself in court as "self-employed."
The one felony count includes the names of all 20 of those killed, state police Superintendent George Beach said at an afternoon press conference. He said the investigation continues, as state police said the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine should have been taken out of service based on brake issues identified in a September inspection.
"That vehicle should not have been on the road," Beach said in announcing the arrest at Troop G headquarters.
While the state police investigation is continuing and other charges are possible, "sole responsibility for that vehicle being on the road was Nauman Hussain's," Beach said.
Criminally negligent homicide is defined as causing someone's death by acting in a manner that was reckless, inattentive, or careless. The maximum sentence for the charge is four years in state prison.
In court in Cobleskill, Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery said she asked for a high bail because of a past history of not appearing in court and his potential flight risk. Hussain agreed to surrender his U.S. passport and his Pakistani one if he has one, though Kindlon said he does not. Mallery said that when Hussain's car was stopped, he was with his brother and girlfriend and the car was full of clothing. After the arraignment, Kindlon said Hussain would have no comment.
Nauman Hussain is the son of Shahed Hussain of Wilton, whom authorities said owns the limousine company. Shahed Hussain is currently in his native Pakistan. Beach said he could still face charges, though police had no authority to force Hussain to return to the United States.
One count of criminally negligent homicide, with 20 names, Superintendent Beach says. Investigation continues. #SchoharieCrash— Stephen Williams (@gazettesteve) October 10, 2018
Hussain's attorney Lee Kindlon gave his own press conference to reporters earlier Wednesday afternoon, calling the charges premature and saying there is no criminal liability. CBS6 video is below.
CBS6 Facebook Live, Hussain attorney speaks outside state police troop headquarters
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show that the stretch limousine, a 2001 Ford Excursion stretched to hold up to 19 people, had been cited for brake problems in a September inspection, and driver Scott Lisinicchia didn't have the proper license to operate a vehicle that carried so many people.
The limousine was carrying 17 passengers, many of them from the Amsterdam area, when it went through a stop sign where Route 30 meets Route 30A in Schoharie at 1:55 p.m. Saturday. The vehicle crossed Route 30A, struck an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, and struck two pedestrians before it went over a small embankment.
The National Transportation Safety Board is also conducting an investigation because of the high death toll. NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt on Monday said there were so signs of skid marks on the road.
While the company has been cooperating with investigators, the arrest may change that, Kindlon said earlier Wednesday.
"What happened today is the state police jumping the gun on filing charges," he said. He said the charges will intefer with the company's plans to cooperate with investigations.
"Unfortunately, from this point, I have to advise my client it's their right to remain silent, and at least right now, we can't cooperate with the investigations going forward," Kindlon said.
He acknowledged the company could face some blame for the tragedy. "Could there be some fault there? Yes. Is it criminal? Absolutely not," he said.
While Shahed Hussain remains in Pakistan due to medical issues, he is "ready, willing and able" to return if asked, keeping in mind his medical concerns, Kindlon said.
Kindlon minimized Nauman Hussain's role in Prestige Limo, describing the father as the one who ran the day-to-day business.
With the arrest, prosecutors have six months to bring the case before a grand jury and seek an indictment.
Kindlon described past safety infractions by the company as mostly minor. He said he has documents showing that a major infraction, a problem with the vehicle's brakes, was fixed in June.
Kindlon also blamed the state for what he considers unsafe conditions at the intersection, which was redone in 2010 and saw reduced weight limits to the point where heavy trucks were banned in 2015.
"The Department of Transportation and the state of New York is doing a great job of saying 'look over there; it's not our fault,'" Kindlon said.
While the families of victims might not want to hear it now, Kindlon suggested they consider suing the state.
Also Wednesday, state police confirmed that Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George was ticketed by state police in August on charges of driving the limousine without the proper license. He had a commercial driver's license but it wasn't endorsed to carry such a large number of passengers, which would have required a bus certification.
Lisinicchia was ticketed while driving the same limo in August for not having the proper license.
On Aug. 25, a trooper with the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit on a roving patrol in Saratoga Springs stopped the limousine as it was being driven by Lisinicchia. Police said that based on documentation provided, the trooper issued violations to the company, and advised both the driver and the company that Lisinicchia could not operate the vehicle without an upgraded license. They said the trooper also took steps to ensure that the vehicle was taken off the road, returned to its original location and that Lisinicchia was directed not to drive the vehicle.
State police spokesman Beau Duffy said troopers won't provide further information on that incident due to the new criminal investigation.
In a statement issued through attorneys, Lisinicchia's family said on Tuesday that he "was a loving and caring man who never would have knowingly put others in harm's way. The family believes that unbeknownst to him he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants."