On Oct. 6, 2018, a limousine crash in Schoharie, New York killed all 17 vehicle passengers, the limo driver and two pedestrians. Federal investigators are calling the New York limo crash the country’s deadliest transportation accident since a 2009 plane crash in Buffalo killed 50 people.
The tragedy has officials concerned about the safety of limousine services. Meanwhile residents who live near the accident scene say they've witnessed far too many crashes at the site. Police took the limousine service's operator into custody, and reports indicate a brake malfunction could be partially to blame for the devastation.
As officials investigate what went wrong, families are left shattered by the accident, which killed newlyweds, two people celebrating birthdays, and four sisters, among others. The accident highlights the catastrophic consequences when vehicles like limos or buses are not adequately maintained, putting lives at risk.
Limousine Passengers Celebrating a 30th Birthday When Crash Occurred
On Saturday, October 6, 2018, 17 people got into a limousine intent on celebrating Amy Steenburg's 30th birthday. The plan was to ensure everyone at the party could safely enjoy their time at a brewery without worrying about driving home after having a few drinks.
At around 2:00 p.m., as the vehicle drove through upstate New York—in a town called Schoharie—it ran through a stop sign at a T-intersection connecting State Route 30 with State Route 30A. The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine drove across the road and smashed into a parked vehicle at the Apple Barrel Country Store, then landed in a ravine, hitting two pedestrians.
"Horrific. ... This is the most deadly transportation accident in this country since February of 2009," says Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, after 20 people died in a limo crash in upstate New York https://t.co/Z4HiuFRLX7 pic.twitter.com/rPhtgowS6q— CNN (@CNN) October 7, 2018
(Driver) Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53
Savannah D. Bursese, 24
Rachael K. Cavosie, 30
Matthew W. Coons, 27
Patrick K. Cushing, 31
Mary E. Dyson, 33
Robert J. Dyson, 34
Amanda D. Halse, 26
Abigail M. Jackson, 34
Adam Jackson, 34
Allison King, 31
Erin R. McGowan, 34
Shane T. McGowan, 30
Amanda Rivenburg, 29
Amy L. Steenburg, 29
Axel J. Steenburg, 29
Richard M. Steenburg, 34
Michael C. Ukaj, 34
The pedestrians who also died in the crash were Brian Hough, 46, and James Schnurr, 70.
Amy Steenburg, Mary Dyson, Allison King, and Abby Jackson were all sisters, while Rich Steenburg and Axel Steenburg were brothers. According to The New York Times, all but one of the victims inside the limousine died in the initial crash. The lone survivor was flown to an Albany hospital but later died from injuries. Although the driver was required to wear a seatbelt, the passengers were not.
Prestige Limousine Failed Safety Inspection
The limousine was owned by Prestige Limousine, a small company based in Gansevoort, New York with a history of inspection failures, per federal transportation records. According to the New York Times, Prestige Limousine operated three vehicles and had previously failed inspections. According to reports, that the limousine involved in the crash failed a safety inspection in early September, partially due to a brake malfunction. Inspectors found six violations during that inspection, which meant the car should not have been on the road. Furthermore, in two years, Prestige Limousine has reportedly received 22 violations.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told the media in a press briefing that the limo “was not supposed to be on the road” after failing its inspection last month. Gov. Cuomo added that the limo driver, “did not have the appropriate driver’s license to be operating that vehicle.” The limo driver was required to carry a commercial driver’s license, according to Cuomo.
The state of New York issued a cease-and-desist order, effectively shutting down Prestige Limousines from operating. The phone number for the company was disconnected two days after the crash.
An attorney for Prestige Limo told Good Morning America that the company believed the issues with the vehicle were minor, but the New York State Department of Transportation issued a statement disputing the company's claims.
"The assertion that the limousine was cleared to be on the road following the September inspection is categorically false," the Department wrote. "The vehicle was subject to inspections and the owner was warned not to operate the vehicle; the vehicle was placed out of service."
Limo in deadly New York crash 'should have been in the scrapyard': AC didn't work, it had painted duct tape https://t.co/Vn81ZYYN7i pic.twitter.com/30TyAbNTqZ— WUSA9 (@wusa9) October 10, 2018
Meanwhile, although officials say driver Scott Lisinicchia did not have the proper license to drive the limousine, his employers say he was properly licensed and worked for the company for years. Lisinicchia's brother also said his brother took his job seriously and would not have driven without the proper paperwork.
NTSB Investigating Speed as a Possible Factor in NY Limo Crash
Jessica Kirby, the manager of Apple Barrel Country Store, saw the limousine barreling down the hill on Highway 30. “That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 miles per hour,” said Kirby, 36, who added that customers were hit near the parking lot.
The day after the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent investigators to Schoharie, a small town of about 3,000 people outside of Schenectady. The New York State Police told the media that autopsies were underway for all of the passengers and the limo driver, including toxicology. Investigators cautioned that the inquiry is in its early stages, and that the cause of the New York limo crash would probably not be known for some time.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said the vehicle had some seatbelts, but they have not determined if passengers were wearing the seatbelts when the vehicle crashed. Officials do not know if the crash was caused by vehicle malfunction or driver error, though there were no skid marks left at the scene.
On October 8, a vigil was held for the victims. Approximately 1,000 people showed up to honor those who died in the New York limousine crash.
Prestige Limousine Operator Arrested
Nauman Hussain, the 28-year-old Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service operator and son of the company's owner, was arrested on October 10 and charged with criminally negligent homicide. State Police Superintendent George Beach said Hussain was solely responsible for the Ford Excursion limousine being on the road despite having failed the safety inspection.
Authorities have not said whether owner Shahed Hussain would be arrested. He is currently in Pakistan.
JUST IN: Limo in crash that killed 20 people failed inspection last month, driver didn't have correct license https://t.co/cMwN1UWq4x
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 8, 2018
Residents Say Crash Site of New York Limo Crash is
JUST IN: Limo in crash that killed 20 people failed inspection last month, driver didn't have correct license https://t.co/cMwN1UWq4x— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 8, 2018
The site of the crash is well-known to locals; many characterize the T intersection as dangerous. The connection between Route 30 and Route 30A involves a steep downhill to a stop sign. Alan Tavenner, the town supervisor of Schoharie, characterized the crash site as a “nasty intersection” that transportation officials have tried to fix to no avail. “I honestly think it was a more dangerous intersection than it was before,” said Tavenner.
Locals say within the last decade, at least three tractor trailers have carried too much speed and blown through the stop sign at the intersection, coming to a stop in a field adjacent to the highway crossing.