The National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously today to finalize the agency’s investigation into the stretch limousine crash in Schoharie, New York that killed 20 people in October 2018.
Since that deadly day, family members, friends and the public has been awaiting a final determination into the causes of the crash.
It happened after a group of friends rented a modified 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo, which hurtled down a hill and crashed into an unoccupied vehicle and came to rest in a ravine.
The driver, all 17 passengers, and two pedestrians were killed. The NTSB says the limo was going more than 100 miles per hour before reaching the intersection of Routes 30 and 30A.
The NTSB finds the probable cause of the crash was rental company Prestige Limousine’s "egregious disregard for safety." Board member Mike Graham said the panel also found fault with Mavis Discount Tire, the New York state DMV, state DOT and New York State Police, determining each could have prevented the crash.
"Prestige Limousine illegally registered the crash limousine, knew it was in poor mechanical condition, and on Saturday October 6, 2018, put 17 passengers and a driver in a limousine that had been placed out of service for safety deficiencies including brake violations. Mavis Discount Tire knowingly inspected and certified the safety of the crashed limousine contrary to the New York State DMV's policy prohibiting inspection of altered vehicles. And the New York State DOT's inspections in 2018 alone found 31 safety violations, seven service violations, and issued several notices of violations to Prestige for transporting passengers without authority."
The board was told that New York's DMV and DOT had enough cause to stop Prestige Limousine from operating but failed to do so.
Investigators determined the limo’s brake system was corroded; the right rear brake line crimped and coated with brake fluid, signaling a leak. Had the braking system been functioning properly, the limo would have been able to stop at the bottom of the hill.
NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt also criticized Schoharie County D.A. Susan Mallery and the State Police for failing to cooperate with the investigation, delaying its completing for almost two years.
Kevin Cushing’s son Patrick Cushing was one of the victims killed inside the limo:
“It was painful and it was disheartening to hear the number of folks such as New York State DMV, DOT, Mavis and certainly Prestige Limousine, who, had one of those agencies or businesses done their job, this accident should never and would never have occurred.”
Sumwalt says the board was not able to speak with Nauman Hussain, the operator of Prestige Limousine, who faces 20 charges each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Hussain pleaded not guilty and was scheduled to go to trial in May, but the trial was delayed because of the pandemic.
Sumwalt promises the NTSB will follow up on its recommendations.
“You know I once heard somebody say ‘the NTSB doesn’t have any teeth.’ Well, that may be true, but we certainly have very sharp gums. And we do stay on people and point out that they have not responded to our recommendations or they have not responded appropriately. So we do expect people to take our recommendations very seriously.”
Cushing says he will continue to advocate for changes to federal law to prevent future such tragedies:
"I was heartened to hear the NTSB cite the fact that New York State has recently passed numerous laws to make limousines more accountable and safer going forward. So much of the efforts that I'm going to be working on going forward are advocacy at the federal level, with Congressman Tonko, Congressman DelGado, Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Stefanik. I meet and talk to their offices on a weekly basis."
New York DMV and DOT issued a joint statement:
Statement by DOT Spokesperson Joe Morrissey and DMV Spokesperson Lisa Koumjian
“The findings clearly demonstrate the shocking extremes to which the owners of Prestige went to break the law and falsify State and federal compliance records. We exercised the full authority granted to us under the law and ordered that vehicle off the road multiple times, but as NTSB’s own reports on this crash reaffirm, Prestige repeatedly violated New York State law and was never authorized at any time to operate for-hire commercial passenger vehicle service in the State. New York has since enacted the nation’s most aggressive laws governing commercial vehicle safety. These new laws provide for increased passenger protections, heightened civil and criminal penalties, and strengthened enforcement provisions.”
Additional information on laws:
o Requiring that all passengers in motor vehicles wear seat belts.
o Creating new felonies for any person(s) that causes the death or injury of another individual while knowingly operating a vehicle under suspension or without a DOT operating permit.
o Increasing civil penalties, up to $10,000 depending upon violation, for the operation of any vehicle ordered out of service and off the road.
o Authorizing the State to refuse/revoke registrations of vehicles that do not meet federal vehicle safety standards.
o Providing explicit authority to immediately suspend the registration and seize license plates of any altered limousine operating in violation of State safety requirements.
o Increasing the minimum insurance requirements to operate an altered limousine in New York State.
o Requires drug and alcohol testing of all drivers, including random testing, operating vehicles with a capacity of nine or more persons, including the driver.
o Requires individuals operating stretched limousines (9 or more persons, including driver) to have a commercial driver's license with the appropriate endorsement.
o Authorizes DOT to immobilize or impound an altered vehicle for an out of service defect; Vehicle shall remain impounded or immobilized until repairs have been made. If repairs not made within 30-days, DOT may dispose of such vehicle as abandoned.