SCHOHARIE -- New York's two U.S. senators on Friday called for the National Transportation Safety Board to examine stretch limousine safety standards, as the board probes the Oct. 6 crash in Schoharie that claimed 20 lives.
In a letter to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwald, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said the deadly crash "demonstrates the extreme danger of putting unsafe limousines on the road and that the work of the NTSB will be invaluable in helping prevent such accidents from happening in the future."
"I’m calling on the NTSB to quickly conduct and conclude an extensive investigation into this crash -- and the lack of stretch limousine safety requirements as a whole -- and issue their new safety recommendations with all due haste," Schumer said.
“We need to make sure that something like this never happens again, and I’m calling on the National Transportation Safety Board to complete a thorough investigation into the accident and issue emergency safety recommendations for stretch limousines as soon as possible," Gillibrand said. "We already know there’s an unacceptable lack of federal regulations for these vehicles, and the federal government has an obligation to put in place safety standards."
The Daily Gazette reported Thursday that stretch limousines -- which are generally lengthened after they leave the factory -- fall outside federal auto safety regulations.
The crash at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A killed the limo's driver, all 17 passengers celebrating a birthday and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. The limousine was traveling south on Route 30 just before 2 p.m. when it went through a stop sign without slowing and hit an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot before coming to rest in a small ravine.
State police have arrested Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes, on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, alleging the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion had safety deficiencies he should have known about, "including conditions affecting the vehicle's braking system," and that driver Scott Lisinicchia lacked the proper license to transport so many people.
The NTSB is investigating, and board Chairman Robert Sumwalt and Vice-Chairman Bruce Landsberg both visited the scene Sunday and Monday. Sumwalt said the NTSB will look at "everything," from the road conditions to the vehicle's condition to the driver's record, and make recommendations. An initial report could come within weeks, but the full probe may take up to two years.
"We implore you to leave no rock unturned in this investigation and look into the safety risks and current regulations for stretch limousines, including: compliance with federal regulations, driver qualifications and any relevant human factors, vehicle inspections, vehicle requirements and vehicle adaption standards, as well as any necessary evaluations of the intersections," the senators wrote in the letter.
Any recommendations could be used by Congress, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop new regulations or laws.
In her weekly email to constituents, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, also called for action.
I will be working with Senator Schumer and the New York delegation to have the National Transportation Safety Board explore the safety of these limousines so that we can ensure accidents like this do not happen again," she wrote.