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Limo brakes were being applied before crash, expert says

Limo brakes were being applied before crash, expert says

Report: Lack of maintenance contributed to "catastrophic brake failure"
Limo brakes were being applied before crash, expert says
The top of a stretch limousine that crashed in Schoharie can be seen on the day of the crash.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHOHARIE -- Physical evidence from last year's limousine crash is consistent with the driver having tried to apply the brakes, even though they apparently failed, according to a brake expert hired by police.

"One of the shoes [worn by limousine driver Scott Lisinicchia] exhibits remarkable deformation at the forward section, consistent with that section of the foot providing brake pedal depression at impact," wrote Brian F. Chase, a vehicle expert retained by state police to analyze the brakes on the aging stretch limo involved in the October 2018 crash that killed 20 people.

Forensic evidence from the vehicle -- a depressed piston in the master cylinder and the position of the power brook vacuum booster -- are also consistent with the brake pedal having been depressed at the time of impact and seized in place by the impact, Chase said. There is no indication that the braking slowed the vehicle as it came down a long hill.

Chase's conclusion that the limousine suffered "catastrophic brake failure" was previously known, but his full 83-page report on the vehicle's braking system was released by the Schoharie County Court on Tuesday, and appears to support prosecutors' contention that lack of maintenance contributed to the crash.

The report is among hundreds of pages of documents being released after Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery filed them with County Court Judge George R. Bartlett III as part of her response to a defense motion to dismiss criminal charges against limo company operator Nauman Hussain. Because of the volume of material, the court released some documents late Monday and released more on Tuesday -- including the brake expert's full report.

Hussain, 29, of Wilton, faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in connection with the Oct. 6 crash, which killed Lisinicchia, 17 passengers being transported from the Amsterdam area to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown, and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store.

The stretched 2001 Ford Excursion came down a long hill on state Route 30 and went through a stop sign at the intersection with Route 30A at high speed, leaving no skid marks. Chase concluded the limousine was a "runaway vehicle" as it came down the hill after suffering brake failure.

Chase's detailed examination of the brakes supports the prosecution's argument that Hussain didn't properly maintain the vehicle, finding maintenance issues on three of the vehicle's four brakes.

"The involved 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine exhibited compelling evidence of the protracted history of neglect of proper inspection and maintenance, with specific emphasis regarding braking system component deficiencies in the vehicle," Chase wrote on his conclusion.

"In brief summary, the multiple fatality motor vehicle crash of Oct. 6, 2018 involving the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine and resulting in the deaths of two pedestrians, the limousine driver, and all seventeen limousine passengers was the unfortunate result of catastrophic brake failure due to the neglect of mandated commercial vehicle inspections and maintenance by company personnel," Chase wrote.

Defense attorney Lee Kindlon said Monday that the defense would be filing a rebuttal with the court, but not commenting through the press.

Kindlon and co-counsel Joseph Tacopina have said the Mavis Discount Tire store in Saratoga Springs, which did work on the limousine on at least three occasions, bears responsibility, because a former manager there has told investigators Hussain was billed for work that wasn't performed, and a master cylinder was ordered for the vehicle, but then not installed.

"Mavis's fraudulent conduct -- not anything undertaken by defendant Nauman Hussain -- was the true legal cause of the accident," Tacopina wrote to the judge two weeks ago, renewing the defense's arguments that the charges should be dismissed. Prosecutors argue that Hussain bears responsibility for circumventing a required state DOT inspection.

Mavis is separately under investigation by the state Department of Motor Vehicles for having issued an inspection sticker for the limousine, even though large-capacity vehicles are supposed to go through a different state Department of Transportation inspection system.

Hussain, who could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, is currently scheduled to go on trial in March.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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