A limousine company owner has been spared prison despite pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide in a 2018 crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York in what was the worst transportation disaster in the U.S. in a decade.
Nauman Hussain, 31, will be free thanks to a deal made in exchange for his guilty plea even though the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the crash was likely caused by his company’s ‘egregious disregard for safety’ that resulted in brake failure.
The crash, which was also blamed on lack of state oversight by the NTSB, led to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing limousine safety bills requiring more seatbelts in limousines and further licensing for drivers.
Nauman Hussain, 31, will be free thanks to a deal made in exchange for his guilty plea
Hussain faces five years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
His case had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and prosecutors wanted to avoid the emotional toll the trial would have on the families.
The hearing was held in a high school gymnasium to provide for social distancing among the many relatives, friends and media members attending.
Prosecutors and Hussain’s lawyers also said the plea agreement assured a resolution in a case that would have faced an uncertain outcome if presented to a jury.
Seventeen family members and friends were killed, along with the driver and two bystanders in the crash
The case dates back to October 2018, when Axel Steenburg rented a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine for the 30th birthday of his new wife, Amy, from Prestige.
The party group, ranging in age from 24 to 34, included Axel’s brother, Amy’s three sisters and two of their husbands, and close friends.
En route to a brewery just south of Cooperstown, the limo’s brakes failed on a downhill stretch of state Route 30 in Schoharie, west of Albany.
The case dates back to October 2018, when a man rented a 2004 Ford Excursion limousine [a similar model pictured above] for the 30th birthday of his new wife from Hussain’s company
The vehicle blew through a stop sign at a T-intersection at over 100 mph (160 kph) and crashed into a small ravine near a popular country store.
Seventeen family members and friends were killed, along with the driver and two bystanders outside the store in what was the deadliest U.S. transportation disaster in a decade.
Steenburg and wife Amy had just tied the knot in June.
The limousine that crashed Saturday was headed to a brewery in Cooperstown, New York, to celebrate Amy Steenburg’s 30th birthday. Amy was killed alongside her new husband Axel
Amy was a nurse for the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
Her three sisters – Allison, Mary, and Abby – were also killed, as were two of their husbands and Axel’s brother Rich.
Just days before the crash, Amy had uploaded a post gushing about Axel to Facebook which read: ‘I love you more than words can say.’
‘You are such an amazing man and entertain all my crazy ideas. Even when I move a couch just to move it back to the original place.’
Amy’s three sisters – Allison, Mary, and Abby – were also killed. Pictured: Allison King (center) Abby Jackson (front left), Amy (front right) and Mary Dyson (back row, right)
Amy’s sister Abigail and her husband Adam Jackson were parents to Archer, four, and one-year-old Elle.
A GoFundMe campaign was launched for the young girls after they lost both parents in the crash. It has since raised more than $100,000.
Mary, one of the four sisters killed in the crash, and her husband Rob Dyson left behind a three-year-old son.
The couple lived in Watertown, New York, where Mary – who served in the US Army from 2007 to 2013 – worked as an engineer.
Mary, one of the four sisters killed in the crash, and her husband Rob Dyson left behind a three-year-old son named Issac
Rich Steenburg, 34, was killed alongside his brother Axel. They both worked at GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor and manufacturing company.
Steenburg’s wife Kimberly had planned to go to the birthday party, but canceled at the last minute because she wasn’t feeling well.
Erin and Shane McGowan were one of two pairs of newlyweds in Saturday’s tragic limo crash.
Erin and Shane McGowan were one of two pairs of newlyweds in Saturday’s tragic limo crash
Shane, 30, and Erin, 34, had only just tied the knot in June after dating for three years.
McGowan was an administrative assistant at St Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam.
She had recently been thinking of going back to school to become a billing administrator, according to her aunt Valerie Abeling.
Patrick Cushing, Erin’s cousin, was killed in the crash alongside his girlfriend Amanda Halse.
Cushing, as the 31-year-old was lovingly called by friends, worked in the technology office of New York’s state Senate.
On Monday Senate Leader John Flanagan described Cushing as an ‘extraordinary’ employee and ‘wonderful young man’.
Cushing also played for Team USA Dodgeball, and his team said he was full of ‘unconditional kindness’ and the ability to ‘make friends of his fiercest competitors’.
Patrick Cushing, Erin’s cousin, was killed in the crash alongside his girlfriend Amanda Halse
The team plans to retire Cushing’s number in his honor.
Halse, 26, worked as a waitress in Watervliet and was a ‘very strong and independent person’, according to sister Karina.
‘She didn’t like it when other people did things for her,’ she added. ‘She would be the one to initiate things.’
Karina, who had been texting with Amanda just as she was stepping into the limo, said the couple were ‘two peas in a pod’.
Matthew Coons, a US Army veteran, was killed alongside his girlfriend Savannah Devonne
Matthew Coons, a US Army veteran, and his girlfriend Savannah Devonne were among the victims of Saturday’s crash.
Coons had been a groomsman at Axel’s wedding in June.
He lived with Savannah and his sister, a single mother with two daughters who he helped financially support.
Amanda Rivenburg, a friend of Amy’s, spent the last seven years working for Living Resources, a New York nonprofit for people with disabilities.
Scott Lisinicchia, 53, was the driver behind the wheel of the 2001 Ford Excursion that crashed on Saturday. He is pictured here with his wife Kim
Scott Lisinicchia, 53, was the driver behind the wheel of the 2001 Ford Excursion.
‘It hurts me to a core to have to bury my husband,’ Lisinicchia’s wife, Kim, wrote in a tribute on Facebook.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Lisinicchia did not have the proper license to operate the vehicle at the time of the crash, his twin brother Keith came to his defense.
‘It was a CDL (commercial driver license). I know that he always made sure that it was valid and was in order,’ Keith said.
Cicero Richards, Lisinicchia’s stepson, also branded Prestige Limousine’s fleet of five cars as ‘pieces of crap’ and said Lisinicchia had been weary to take Saturday’s job.
Brian Hough and his father-in-law James Schnurr were the two pedestrians who were killed during the limo crash on Saturday.
Loved ones of the victims were outraged as Hussain sat quietly at the defense table.
Loved ones of the victims were outraged as Hussain sat quietly at the defense table during a hearing that was held in a high school gymnasium to provide for social distancing
One spectator left the hearing, cursing and shouting, ‘He killed 20 people,’ before apologizing to the judge on her way out.
Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery’s office has said Hussain allowed passengers to ride in the limo despite having received ‘multiple notices of violations’ from the state and having been told repairs were inadequate.
State police said the vehicle should have been taken out of service because of brake problems identified in an inspection a month before the crash.
Attorneys from both sides of the case addressed the media after court was adjourned
Hussain had originally been charged with 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter.
As Judge George Bartlett III prepared to accept the agreement keeping him out of jail, loved ones of the victims spoke of lives cut short, the holes left in their own and their frustration that the operator would avoid time behind bars.
‘Every day I try to wrap my head around this impossible situation,’ said Sheila McGarvey, whose 30-year-old son Shane McGowan and his wife, Erin, were passengers. ‘I hate every day without him.’
She wished, she said, that a fraction of any money Hussain spent on lawyers would have been spent to fix the limo’s brakes.
The vehicle blew through a stop sign at a T-intersection at over 100 mph (160 kph) and crashed into a small ravine near a popular country store
Hussain was accused of putting the victims in a death trap.
‘My son, my baby boy, was killed in a limo while trying to be safe,’ said Beth Muldoon, the mother of Adam Jackson, 34, who was killed along with his wife, Abigail King Jackson.
The couple, who with the others had rented the limo to avoid drinking and driving, had two small children.
Loved ones of the victims like Kevin and Sue Cushing took turns talking of lives cut short, the holes left in their own and their frustration that the operator would avoid time behind bars
Muldoon lamented the holidays and life milestones the parents will miss.
Hussain sat quietly as parents talked about their grief and anger. Defense attorney Joseph Tacopina said his client accepts responsibility for his actions and cried as the relatives spoke.
Hussain did not answer reporters’ questions after the court proceeding.
Jill Richard-Perez talks to reporters about her son Matthew Coons who died in the crash
Under the deal, Hussain will be formally sentenced after an interim probation of two years.
The judge noted that Hussain’s guilty plea could be used to buoy any lawsuits.
Lee Kindlon, an attorney for Hussain, has said his client tried to maintain the limousine and relied on what he was told by state officials and a repair shop that inspected it.
According to the plea agreement, Hussain had the 2001 vehicle serviced at a Mavis Discount Tire store multiple times in the two years before the crash, including twice for brake repairs.
The same shop also inspected the limousine, rather than the state Department of Transportation as required, the document said.
A telephone message left with Mavis Discount Tires’ corporate headquarters in Millwood, New York, was not immediately returned.
Hussain, seen here being arraigned in 2018, did not speak after learning he would not serve jail time
Prestige repeatedly changed the listed number of seats and took other steps to skirt safety regulations, according to documents released by the NTSB.
The safety board said last fall that the state Department of Transportation knew of Prestige’s out-of-service violations and lack of operating authority and that the state Department of Motor Vehicles failed to properly register the limousine, allowing Prestige to circumvent safety regulations and inspection requirements.
A civil case led by attorney Cynthia LaFace is still ongoing.
Attorney Cynthia LaFave is representing victims in a civil trial against Hussain