SCHOHARIE — Statements that Nauman Hussain made to authorities both before and after last year's deadly Schoharie limousine crash can be used at his upcoming manslaughter trial, a judge has ruled.
Schoharie County Court Judge George R. Barlett III ruled this week that statements the 29-year-old Wilton man made to a state Department of Transportation commercial vehicle inspector in the months before the crash, a state trooper in August 2018, and brief statements made to two state police investigators the day of the crash can be used by prosecutors.
The statements Hussain made in the months before the crash can be used because "defendant was not in custody nor was he coerced in any way," Bartlett ruled.
Statements to investigators on the day of the crash can be used because Hussain at that point was not suspected of any crime, he wrote in a six-page decision, which follows a hearing held Nov. 4 on defense efforts to suppress the statements. At the time, state police investigators said they were focused on learning the identities of those who were in the vehicle. "The questioning was investigatory, not accusatory," Barrett wrote.
The crash of the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion owned by Hussain's company on Oct. 6, 2018, at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A, resulted in the deaths of 20 people: the driver, all 17 limousine passengers, and two pedestrians. The passengers were all adults, many from the Amsterdam area, who had rented the limousine to celebrate a birthday in Cooperstown.
Investigators believe the vehicle's brakes failed as it came down a long grade, and that DOT motor carrier safety inspector Chad Smith, in various interactions between January 2018 and the day before the crash, had made Hussain aware the vehicle was not properly registered with either federal or state authorities to carry large numbers of people, and had numerous mechanical problems. Smith twice had placed the vehicle "out of service" due to safety issues, he testified at the hearing.
Hussain faces trial on 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, with the potential of his being sent to prison for up to 15 years.
In his decision, Bartlett also reaffirmed that the trial will start on Monday, March 9. A pre-trial conference was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 11, and a hearing will be held on Friday, March 6, on whether any past crimes by Hussain can be used against him, should be chose to testify at the trial.
Hussain has pleaded not guilty, with his lawyers saying he could not reasonably have foreseen that his actions would lead to the tragedy that occurred.