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A year later, Hussain plea in Schoharie limo crash is rejected in surprising development

In this file photo, Nauman Hussain is brought into Cobleskill Town, N.Y., court for arraignment.
Patrick Dodson for WAMC
In this file photo, Nauman Hussain is brought into Cobleskill Town, N.Y., court for arraignment.

Nauman Hussain, the operator of the company involved in the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people, is heading for a new trial after a judge rejected a 2021 plea agreement at what was to be a formal sentencing hearing Wednesday.

Judge Peter Lynch said in Schoharie County Court that he would not agree to the plea deal’s sentence of five years of probation and would instead recommend jail time. Hussain’s lawyers then withdrew the plea, setting the stage for a new trial. The stunning turn of events was captured by Spectrum News.

Hussain had pleaded guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide last September. The Prestige Limousine vehicle was found by National Transportation Safety Board investigators to have poorly maintained and “largely, if not entirely, nonoperational” rear brakes. Hussain’s attorney maintained it was the “substantial and intervening acts by others,” including Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs, that led to the crash. The company had taken the stretch SUV limo to Mavis for repairs.

New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, says the development is welcome news.

“Going to trial provides much justice for the families impacted. So many of the families, we have been working with them, I know them personally because it impacted my hometown heavily, but this is about justice," he said. "I think the families will be welcoming the opportunity to go to trial, which I think is about speaking to the justice. Nothing can be reversed, the loss and the terrible tragedy they’ve had to absorb, but justice served in a courtroom will be a powerful thing for them.”

Tonko’s hometown is Amsterdam, where many of the victims were from. Speaking in Albany just after the news, Tonko says he is still waiting for a response from the FBI about his calls for more information about Hussain’s father Shahed, reportedly an FBI informant, and the family’s ties to the agency:

“We want a full detailed explanation of their activities in the entire process,” he added.

Investigators say the limousine, carrying 17 passengers celebrating a birthday party, barreled down the road at more than 100 miles per hour and crashed into the Apple Barrel Country Store’s parking lot, where two bystanders and all of the occupants including the driver were killed. As part of the plea agreement reached last September, Hussain was in line to avoid jail time, serving probation and 1,000 hours of community service.

Families of the victims were outraged after last year’s hearing.

“We’re all mad. We’re all so mad,” said Mary Ashton.

Mary Ashton and her husband Kyle lost their son Michael Christopher Ukaj, a Marine veteran who was also celebrating his 34th birthday on the day of the crash when several friends were on their way to the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown in the limo.
Hussain was free on bail after Wednesday’s hearing.

Lawsuits have been filed against Prestige Limousine, the Hussains, the State of New York and Mavis Discount Tire.

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