COBLESKILL, N.Y. (Reuters) – The operator of a limousine company that owned the vehicle involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York was charged on Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide, court officials in Cobleskill, New York, said.
Nauman Hussain, 28, was charged with one felony count related to the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in nearly a decade. All 20 victims were listed on the charging document.
Hussain was released on $150,000 bail by a court in Cobbleskill, near the state capital, Albany. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The arraignment was held several miles (km) from the crash site in Schoharie, where a candlelight vigil was being held for the victims.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in the crash failed inspection last month and that its driver did not have the proper license to operate the vehicle.
The state ordered the vehicle out of service in September and it should not have been on the road, New York State Police Superintendent George Beach said.
“The sole responsibility for the motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain,” Beach said.
Shahed Hussain, Nauman’s father and the owner of Prestige Limousine, was not in the country and more charges were possible, Beach said.
The company’s lawyer, Lee Kindlon, told a news conference on Wednesday that he intended to defend Nauman Hussain against any charges.
Kindlon said on Tuesday that safety violations issued last month on the limousine involved in the accident were largely minor and had not caused the crash.
The vehicle, carrying 17 people on their way to a birthday party on Saturday, ran a stop sign at a highway intersection in Schoharie, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Albany, police and the National Transportation Safety Board said.
It crashed into an unoccupied parked car and two pedestrians before coming to a halt in a shallow ravine, officials said. The driver, all 17 passengers and the two pedestrians were killed.
George Longworth, an attorney for the family of the driver, 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, said on Tuesday that his family “believes that unbeknownst to him, he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants.”
Before the crash, one of the victims, Erin McGowan, texted a friend that the limousine appeared to have engine trouble, the New York Times reported.
(Reporting by Cindy Schultz in Cobleskill, N.Y. and Peter Szekely and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney)