SCHOHARIE -- The estates of the two pedestrians killed in last year's Schoharie limousine crash have filed lawsuits against a number of parties they hold responsible, including the country store in whose parking lot they were killed last Columbus Day weekend. The crash claimed 20 lives in all.
The lawsuits, both filed in state Supreme Court in Cayuga County, were brought by their widows and their estates on behalf of Brian G. Hough of Moravia, who was a geology professor at SUNY-Oswego, and his father-in-law, James J. Schnurr of Kerhonkson, in Ulster County. Jackie Schnurr, Hough's wife and administrix of his estate, witnessed the crash.
The men were returning to their vehicle after visiting the Apple Barrel at 1:55 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2018, when an out-of-control stretch limousine carrying 18 people came at high speed through the stop sign at state routes 30 and 30A and into the parking lot. The limousine struck the parked Schnurr vehicle, which then struck and killed the two pedestrians. The limousine then went into a ravine and abruptly stopped, killing all on board.
Since the crash, Prestige Limousine operator Nauman Hussain has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, following revelations that the stretched 2001 Ford Expedition involved in the crash had failed state Department of Transportation inspections or allegedly had been improperly inspected as a non-commercial vehicle. Prosecutors believe the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure. The charges remain pending.
Both lawsuits name Nauman Hussain; his father, Shahed Hussain, who is owner of Prestige Limousine; the estate of limo driver Scott T. Lisinicchia; Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs, which allegedly did the improper inspections; the Apple Barrel; and other parties unknown.
The lawsuit contends that Apple Barrel bears some liability because of previous incidents in which vehicles had gone through the stop sign opposite its parking lot. It contends Apple Barrel should have erected barriers or bollards to stop vehicles, or posted signs warning patrons not to park in that part of the parking lot. The lawsuit says there were previous incidents in 2012 and 2014 that should have alerted Apple Barrel's owners to a problem.
A woman who answered the phone at Apple Barrel on Thursday said no one from the Loden family, which owns the store, was available to comment.
The attorneys representing the two estates, the Wolford Law Firm of Rochester, said they believe the claims against all the defendants are justified.
"Although there is a criminal case pending against the operator of the limousine company in Schoharie County, these are civil actions seeking compensation but also accountability for the negligent conduct of the defendants," the firm's statement said.
At least two other civil lawsuits have been filed by the estates of those killed in the crash, and more lawsuits are anticipated.
With the one-year anniversary of the tragedy two weeks away, the families of many of the victims have released a statement asking for privacy as they struggle with their grief. Most of the victims, including four sisters, were from the Amsterdam area. All the victims were young adults who had rented the limousine to take them to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown.
"We are still seeking justice and hoping the investigation and prosecution prevents tragedies like this from occurring in the future," the families' statement said. "A year later, nothing has changed. No one has been held accountable for this tragedy and this delayed justice keeps our families in limbo reliving the traumatic loss of our loved ones."
"This crash has changed all of our lives forever and we are still struggling to attempt daily life without our loved ones," the statement released through attorney Cynthia S. LaFave concludes.
A separate National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the crash that could make safety recommendations is ongoing.