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Tonko: NTSB, NY authorities reach 'compromise' over Schoharie limo crash probe

Tonko: NTSB, NY authorities reach 'compromise' over Schoharie limo crash probe

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Tonko: NTSB, NY authorities reach 'compromise' over Schoharie limo crash probe
The memorial to the Oct. 6 crash victims as seen in mid-December
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/DAILY GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHOHARIE COUNTY -- U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko's office said on Thursday that federal officials investigating the Oct. 6 limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie County are preparing to get access to the vehicle.

Specifically, a structure will be built at the New York State Police Troop G headquarters to house the stretch limousine, while officials with the National Transportation Safety Board inspect it.

The NTSB has so far been denied access to the vehicle by New York State Police and the Schoharie County District Attorney's Office. 

Tonko's office said Thursday there is no formal agreement about when access to the vehicle may be granted to the NTSB, but there has been recent progress, despite the government shutdown, and a "compromise" and "a pathway forward" have been established.

Calls to both Schoharie County District Attorney Susan J. Mallery's office and the NTSB seeking clarification on the compromise were not returned on Thursday.

The Oct. 6 crash happened when the limousine -- traveling down a long hill on Route 30 from Route 7 to Route 30A -- went through a stop sign at a significant speed, through the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, and into a shallow ravine. All involved, most of whom were from Amsterdam or had connections to that community, were killed.

Subsequently, limousine company operator Nauman Hussain of Cohoes has been charged with criminally negligent homicide, because the aging limousine had failed commercial inspections due to faulty brakes and other issues, and the driver was operating out of his license class.

Tonko is from Amsterdam.

"I am encouraged that the NTSB and Schoharie County DA have reached a solution allowing them to work together so that this urgent investigation can proceed," Tonko said in the prepared statement. "It is my great hope that this is the first step in building a strong collaborative process that will honor the victims and their families by helping prevent future tragedies and bring justice and accountability to those responsible."

The dispute between the NTSB and the DA's office was ongoing prior to the federal government shutdown, which has resulted in "non-essential" federal employees being furloughed without pay.

The New York State Police and the Schoharie County DA's Office are engaged in a criminal prosecution of the operator of Prestige Limousine, Nauman Hussain, whose father is the owner of the vehicle in the deadly crash.

A Dec. 14 letter from NTSB General Counsel Kathleen Silbaugh to Mallery states the agency had yet to be given access to the vehicle, which is in the custody of state police while the criminal investigation continues.

"While we understand the important duties you are fulfilling, we are gravely concerned that your lack of responsiveness to our requests has seriously impeded our abilities to carry out our Congressionally-mandated duties to properly complete this safety investigation and potentially prevent similar accidents in the future," the letter stated.

Tonko's news release fell short of explaining terms or details of how Mallery and the NTSB will improve how they are working together on the investigation.

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