Cuomo: Limo That Crashed, Killing 20, in Upstate NY Shouldn't Have Been on the Road

"The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," Cuomo said

The supersized limousine that crashed and killed 20 people outside a country store failed a safety inspection last month and shouldn't have been on the road, and the driver wasn't properly licensed, New York's governor said Monday.

The state moved to shut down the owner, Prestige Limousine, as state and federal authorities investigated the cause of Saturday's wreck in Schoharie. The company said it was taking its cars off the road while conducting its own probe into the crash. 

Speaking Monday before New York City's Columbus Day Parade, Cuomo added that the driver of the limousine -- identified by multiple state law enforcement officials briefed on the crash as 53-year-old Scott Lisnicchia -- didn't have the proper type of license to operate the vehicle. 

The governor said it is still unclear what caused the crash in Schoharie, a small town about 40 miles west of Albany. He said the state has also issued a cease-and-desist order to the limousine company, Prestige Limousine, to keep it from operating until state and federal investigators finish looking into the crash.

"The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," Cuomo said. 

Prestige Limousine said in a statement it was performing a detailed internal investigation to determine the cause of the accident and steps it can take in order to prevent future accidents. The company says it has voluntarily taken its fleet of vehicles off the road during the investigation, and has met with state and federal investigators.

"Prestige Limousine extends its deepest condolences to the family members and friends of those who tragically lost their lives on Saturday," the company said in a statement through lawyer Lee Kindlon.

The limo company owner, Shahed Hussain, has been located but is currently out of the country, state police said in a news conference Monday afternoon. Three vehicles have been seized in the investigation, and authorities are examining the airbag control module in the crashed limo -- essentially the black box. 

Hussain once worked as an FBI informant after he pleaded guilty to driver license fraud in 2003, the I-Team reported Monday

Federal records show the company has undergone five inspections and had four vehicles pulled from service in the last two years.

The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal body that investigates such incidents, is conducting its own investigation separately from state police. At the Monday news conference, NTSB officials said they've already met with the limo company and are continuing to collect information. 

The limousine was headed to a birthday party at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown when it blew through a stop sign and slammed into a parked SUV at the Apple Barrel Country Store. Everyone in the car -- including four sisters, other relatives, friends, a New York State Senate employee and the driver -- was killed, along with two people outside the SUV. 

The crash "sounded like an explosion," said Linda Riley, of nearby Schenectady, who was on a shopping trip with her sisters. She had been in another car parked at the store, saw a body on the ground and heard people start screaming.

The store manager, Jessica Kirby, told The New York Times the limo was coming down a hill at "probably over 60 mph." In an email to The Associated Press, she complained that the junction where the crash occurred is accident-prone.

It's the deadliest transportation accident since February 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York, killing 50 people, according to National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt.

And it appears to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident since a bus ferrying nursing home patients away from Hurricane Rita caught fire in Texas 2005, killing 23.

At a news conference Sunday, officials didn't comment on the limo's speed, or whether the limo occupants were wearing seatbelts. Authorities didn't release the names of the victims or speculate on what caused the limo to run the stop sign. Autopsies were being conducted.

The vehicle was an after-market stretch limousine, according to an official briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and thus declined further identification.

Safety issues on such vehicles have arisen before, most notably after a wreck on Long Island in July 2015 in which four women on a winery tour were killed. They were in a Lincoln Town Car that had been cut apart and rebuilt in a stretch configuration to accommodate more passengers. The limousine was trying to make a U-turn and was struck by a pickup.

A grand jury found that vehicles converted into stretch limousines often don't have safety measures including side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. That grand jury called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assemble a task force on limousine safety.

Limousines built in factories are already required to meet stringent safety regulations, but when cars are converted into limos, safety features are sometimes removed, leading to gaps in safety protocols, the grand jury wrote.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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