Vehicle had a history of safety issues that should have kept it off the road
Twenty Albany, NY-area residents are dead following an October 6, 2018 “party bus” accident in Upstate New York near the town of Schoharie. According to police the dead include the vehicle’s driver, 17 passengers, and two pedestrians who were crossing a parking lot when they were struck by the out of control vehicle.
Witnesses reported that the vehicle was initially traveling south on New York Route 30 when it blew past a stop sign at a high rate of speed before careening into the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store, where it struck another vehicle before apparently striking a tree and coming to a stop in a drainage ditch.
Many factors in common with other party bus accidents
As we have noted in other pages of this website, multi-passenger commercial vehicle accidents are almost always due to a combination of factors rather than a single cause. A review of the early, publicly-available, findings in this case suggest that investigators will be concentrating their efforts in three areas:
- The vehicle
- The driver
- The vehicle’s owner
The party bus had been chartered from Gansevoort, NY-based Prestige Limousine Services and was later described as a 2001 Ford Excursion minivan that had been “expanded” by modifications that allowed it to hold up to 18 seated passengers. As the investigation into the accident progressed, it was learned that the vehicle had twice failed routine safety inspections earlier this year and had been “tagged” (ordered to be taken out of service) by the New York Department of Transportation in September due to problems with the vehicle’s brakes. A story published in the New York Times seems to confirm the reports of the vehicle’s poor maintenance and safety history.
The aunt of crash victim Erin McGowan told the Times that minutes before the crash her niece had texted her with concerns about the vehicle's condition, indicating that the vehicle’s motor was so loud that it made conversation among the passengers. The Times also reported that accident victim Allison King had sent a text message to her fiancé indicating that the vehicle’s brakes were burning and that the driver was allowing the vehicle to coast in the minutes immediately prior to the crash.
The driver of the party bus, 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, was also killed in the crash. According to news sources, Lisinicchia’s wife told accident investigators that her husband, a commercial truck driver, had been driving for Prestige Limousine Services on a part-time basis for about a year. Investigators determined that Lisinicchia did, in fact, did hold a valid commercial driver’s license but that his license lacked the endorsement that would have permitted him to legally operate a vehicle designed to accommodate 15 or more passengers.
The investigators later learned that Lisinicchia had previously been cited for driving a multi-passenger vehicle without that endorsement. It was also learned that he had also received several traffic citations in nearby Saratoga Springs but it is unclear if those citations were for “moving” violations (e.g. “speeding” or “reckless driving”) or “administrative” violations such as illegal parking or vehicle registration issues.
The vehicle’s owner
The party bus/limousine was owned by Prestige Limousine Services of Gansevoort, NY. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the company itself is owned by Sahed Hussain of the same address.
At the time of the accident, Sahed Hussain was reported to be out of the country and visiting family in his native Pakistan leaving his son, Nauman Hussain, to run the company in his absence. Based on the initial findings of the accident investigation, Nauman Hussain was arrested on October 10 and charged with multiple counts of criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony under New York criminal law. He has since posted $150,000 bail and is currently free awaiting trial.
While admitting that the publicly-available information regarding this accident is preliminary and will be subject to revision as the investigation progresses, it appears that someone at Prestige Limousinedeliberately removed the warning sticker stating that the vehicle could not be used to transport passengers that had been attached to its windshield by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) after it failed the September safety inspection.
Assuming that the published news reports are accurate, only two people would have been in a position to illegally remove the warning tag from the vehicle:
The vehicle’s driver: As a professional driver and holder of a commercial driver’s license (CDL), driver Scott Lisinicchia would have immediately recognized the significance of the DOT warning sticker. He also would have been well-aware of the significant penalties that would result if anyone other than a DOT inspector removed the warning after confirming that the necessary repairs had been made. It is thus unlikely that Scott Lisinicchia removed the out-of-service warning from the vehicle.
The vehicle’s owner: Recall that the owner of Prestige Limousine Services, Sahed Hussain, was out of the country on the day of the accident, making it impossible for him to have removed the sticker. This leaves only his son and “acting owner” of Prestige Limousine, Nauman Hussain, as the only other person in a position to have tampered with the DOT warning.
In either case, the warning seems to have been removed by either an employee of Prestige Limousine or by an agent of the company’s owner. It appears that it will be very difficult for Prestige Limousine Services to avoid both criminal charges and civil liability in this tragedy.
We will be monitoring developments in this, and other, party bus/limo accident investigations and will post updates as this case moves through both the criminal and civil courts.