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Defense: Catastrophic brake failure caused Schoharie limo crash, prosecution expert report says

Defense: Catastrophic brake failure caused Schoharie limo crash, prosecution expert report says

Defense: Catastrophic brake failure caused Schoharie limo crash, prosecution expert report says
The Schoharie limo crash memorial as seen in December
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

SCHOHARIE - A prosecution expert has concluded "catastrophic brake failure" caused the October limo crash in Schoharie that claimed 20 lives, a court filing reads.

Defense attorneys for limo company operator Nauman Hussain provided the conclusion in a recently filed motion in opposition to a prosecution request for a sample of Hussain's DNA. Prosecutors want the DNA to compare to any DNA recovered from "a removed or peeled-off DOT sticker."

In arguing that the alleged removal of the sticker to be insignificant enough as to make a DNA sample unwarranted, the defense cited a prosecution report on the crash itself.

"To be clear, the People provided the defense with a detailed 83-page expert report, entitled, 'Motor Vehicle Forensics Analysis Report,' dated April 26, 2019," the defense filing reads. "And, significantly the sole cause of the accident identified on page 82 of that report is 'catastrophic break(sic) failure.'"

While the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary findings on the crash in February, it did not cite a cause.

Hussain, 29, of Cohoes, was indicted last month on 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, one count of each for every victim. His trial has been delayed until January.

The Oct. 6 crash at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A killed all 17 passengers inside the limo, the limo driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot of a nearby store. The 17 passengers in the limo were en route from Amsterdam to Cooperstown to celebrate a birthday. 

The limo should never have been on the road, state police have said previously. 

The May 17 defense filing, first highlighted Sunday by the Albany Times Union and obtained Monday morning by The Daily Gazette, goes on to cite the prosecution expert's findings on the limo's braking system after the crash.

The expert found the right rear wheel brake inoperable, "attributable to pre-existing deficiencies of two seized disc brake caliper pistons," the defense quoted the prosecution's report.

The prosecution expert also found, according to the defense:

  • Reduced brake efficiency in the left rear wheel brake, "attributable to pre-existing deficiencies of disc brake rotor swept area condition, as well  as reduced hydraulic brake force."
  • Reduced brake efficiency in the right front wheel brake, "attributable to pre-existing deficiencies of disc brake rotor swept area condition, as well as disc brake pad friction material condition."
  • Reduced brake efficiency in the left front wheel brake, "attributable to pre-existing deficiencies of disc brake rotor swept area condition, as well as disc brake pad friction material condition."
  • Severely corroded rear crossover brake tubing, "ultimately realizing burst failure from brake fluid pressure by and through brake pedal application."

The defense filing goes on to cite what it says were the failings given in a Sept. 4 inspection of the limo, just over a month prior to the crash, that resulted in inspectors placing an "out of service" sticker on the limo and called the sticker issue a "red-herring."

"Plainly, none of the three violations found on September 4, 2018 caused the limousine accident on October 6, 2018," the defense wrote. "As a result, the removal of the DOT sticker stemming from those three violations similarly cannot be said to have caused the accident."

None of the deficiencies found in that inspection led to the brake failure, the defense contends.

The Sept. 4 inspection found no "or defective bus emergency exits," a capacity seating sticker was missing and an anti-lock braking system line dangling at a wheel.

The anti-lock braking system prevents skidding and was not cited to have caused the brake failure, the defense argued.

"The People do not allege that any of these putative violations of federal guidelines resulted in their proffered cause of the accident, 'catastrophic brake failure.' Nor could the People do so credibly," the defense filing reads.

Hussain is represented by attorneys Joseph Tacopina and Lee Kindlon.

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