One agency is concerned with crime.
Another agency is concerned with public safety.
Where their two missions cross, the agencies should be able to work together.
But that hasn’t been the case regarding the limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie on Oct. 6.
In the 75 days that have passed since the crash, the Schoharie County District Attorney’s Office has prohibited National Transportation Safety Board inspectors from examining the vehicle to look for potential mechanical causes of the crash.
Both the district attorney and the federal inspectors have separate but equally important roles in determining responsibility for the crash.
And both should have been working together since Day 1 to fulfill their missions.
Instead, NTSB officials have been repeatedly denied hands-on access to the limousine, which rests inside a tent.
As such, they haven’t been able to throughly examine the limo’s brakes and electrical system and the structural integrity of the modified vehicle. Winter cold and moisture can wreak havoc on exposed metal parts.
As time goes on, without their investigators being able to examine the vehicle up close, NTSB officials fear the evidence will deteriorate and prevent them from drawing sound conclusions about the mechanical contributors to the crash.
We understand DA Susan Mallery’s reluctance to cooperate. Having outsiders messing with the evidence could interfere with their investigation and perhaps allow the culprits to go free. But we’re not talking about letting treasure hunters scavenge a shipwreck. We’re talking about allowing trained, professional federal safety investigators to do their job.
In many respects, the job of the NTSB could be seen as more important than that of law enforcement, in that whatever federal inspectors uncover could reveal issues that could be used to prevent another tragedy. Yet despite the obvious value to the public of having both law enforcement and public safety inspectors examine the vehicle, the safety inspectors have been kept at bay.
There’s no reason for this conflict. Federal inspectors and law enforcement cooperate every day on such investigations without territorial or evidentiary issues.
This situation needs to be resolved right now. The longer federal safety officials are kept away from the vehicle, the greater the chances are they won’t be able to identify a mechanical cause.
If they can’t determine what contributed to his crash, they can’t prevent others.
That means this conflict is putting the public’s safety in danger.
Both sides need to get together and resolve it.