SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (AP) — The operator of a limousine company who has been accused of acting recklessly and causing the deaths of 20 people, is not to blame for the 2018 upstate New York crash, because he tried his best to repair and maintain the stretch limo, his lawyer argued during closing statements Tuesday.
Special prosecutor Frederick Rench said Nauman Hussain, who ran Prestige Limousine, intentionally failed to follow the maintenance regulations for the 2001 Ford Excursion. Rench said that if Hussain had done routine state vehicle inspections, as required, it would've revealed brake defects and prevented the wreck in Schoharie, a village west of Albany.
Hussain is charged with criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the 2018 wreck of the stretch SUV limousine. Jurors will be asked to decide whether Hussain is guilty of one of the charges.
Prosecutors say the brakes failed to stop the heavy limo, which was packed with birthday revelers, as it hurtled down a hill, went off the road, and hit a parked car and trees before stopping in a streambed.
Seventeen passengers, the driver and two bystanders died in the crash — one of the deadliest U.S. road wrecks of the past two decades.
Defense lawyer Lee Kindlon blamed the crash on Mavis Discount Tires, a repair shop that Hussain routinely used.
“Hussain had true belief that he had repaired the brake system, that the brakes were in fine and working order,” Kindlon told jurors. “The people could not prove that Nauman Hussain knew or even should have known that Mavis falsified the repair maintenance and safety inspections.”
Rench insisted Hussain was responsible for the deaths and the crash, and said he failed to fulfill his responsibility to maintain the vehicle, including its faulty brakes.
Family members of the crash victims wiped away tears as Rench read off the names of those killed in his closing statements.
During opening statements last week, prosecutors and Kindlon made similar arguments about the case. Witnesses called to the stand by prosecutors during the trial included a former Mavis manager, people who witnessed the crash, and a state Department of Transportation inspector who flagged the SUV-style limousine for violations long before the crash took place. The defense called no witnesses.
Lawyers for Mavis, which is not on trial but is being sued by the families of the victims, deny the repair shop is at fault.
The trial comes after a judge threw out a plea deal last fall that would have spared Hussain prison time.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.