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Former Manhattan prosecutor joins prosecution of operator in Schoharie limo crash case

Former Manhattan prosecutor joins prosecution of operator in Schoharie limo crash case

Former Manhattan prosecutor joins prosecution of operator in Schoharie limo crash case
Nauman Hussain at court in April
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SCHOHARIE -- The Schoharie County District Attorney's Office will get assistance from a former Manhattan prosecutor in her prosecution of the operator of the limo company involved in October's crash that killed 20 people, according to court filings.

Meanwhile, the company that insured the limousine has agreed in a separate court filing to pay the limit of the limousine company's policy on the vehicle: $500,000 to be divided by a judge among the 20 estates of the people killed in the crash.

In the criminal case against limo company operator Nauman Hussain, a Schoharie County Court judge last week approved a request by Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery to allow her office to bring on an assistant attorney general to help prosecute Hussain.

Mallery's office includes a single full-time prosecutor and two part-time prosecutors, she wrote in her application. The case, she wrote, "will continue to present unusual difficulty" based on the nature of the case, number of witnesses and the complexity of it.

With the judge's ruling, Assistant Attorney General Gail Heatherly is set to join the prosecution. Heatherly had served in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for 14 years, where she prosecuted homicides and other cases.

More recently, Heatherly has served 11 years with the state Attorney General's Office on complex financial cases, Mallery wrote. Heatherly's salary will paid by the state Attorney General, Mallery wrote.

Hussain, 29, of Cohoes, was indicted in April 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 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine should have been taken out of service based on brake issues identified in a September inspection, they said. The direct cause of the crash has been cited as catastrophic brake failure.

Also last week, Global Liberty Insurance Company of New York, the company that insured Prestige Limo, the owner of the crash vehicle, filed in state Supreme Court in Albany County to hand over to the court there the limit of the insurance policy, $500,000.

Sal Ferlazzo, the Albany attorney representing the estate of Amanda Rivenberg, one of those killed in the crash, confirmed the policy's limit to The Daily Gazette earlier last month.

If approved, a judge would then decide how that money is divided up. An equal distribution among the 20 estates involved would bring as little as $25,000 each. 

The insurance company also asked that its attorney's fees be taken out of the money. Ferlazzo Monday called that unfair.

"I think it's inappropriate and it really makes them look terrible," Ferlazzo said.

Ferlazzo also said he believed the $500,000 to be the minimum required for limo companies in New York state. He said the state should increase that minimum.

Beyond the direct insurance coverage, there are other potential defendants, including the state, Ferlazzo said. Limo company assets in the United States would also be available to be sought, he said.

If the victims had their own cars and coverage for under-insured accidents, the estates could put in a claim against that once the main insurance is exhausted, Ferlazzo said.

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