The Pakistani-origin operator of the company involved in the deadly stretch limousine crash that killed 20 people in New York State has been charged with criminally negligent homicide after one of its vehicles caused the deadliest accident in the US for nearly a decade, police said.
The operator, Nauman Hussain, had been issued written violations earlier this year after vehicle inspections by the State Police and the state Department of Transportation, said George Beach, the superintendent of the State Police.
Hussain, 28, is the son of Shahed Hussain, the owner of Prestige Limousine.
Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery said Hussain had packed bags with him when his car was stopped Wednesday near Albany, CBS News reported.
Shahed Hussain, a 62-year-old former informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is currently in Pakistan.
The driver whom Nauman Hussain hired Scott Lisinicchia, who died in the accident “should not be operating the type of vehicle involved in Saturday’s crash,” Beach said.
Hussain had also ignored orders from the transportation department that the limousine should not have been on the road, Beach was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Hussain was charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide involving all 20 crash victims, and arraigned on Wednesday in Cobleskill, close to the crash site in the small town of Schoharie.
He pleaded not guilty, and was released after posting $50,000 bail.
Superintendent Beach would not say whether Hussain’s father Shahed could also face charges, but he noted that the investigation was continuing and additional charges may be in the offing, the Times reported.
The arrest came four days after a stretch limousine, rented out by Prestige, ran through a stop sign, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow ravine. All 17 passengers and the limousine’s driver were killed, as were two pedestrians.
The arrest is the latest development in a fast-moving investigation that has focused on the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine, which had repeatedly failed inspections, including one as recently as last month.
The death toll from Saturday’s accident made it the worst transportation-related accident in the country in nine years, dating to a 2009 plane crash outside Buffalo that killed 50 people.
Among the victims were 17 young friends all between the ages of 24 and 34 who had been travelling in the stretch limousine for a birthday party trip at a local brewery.
In remarks to reporters on Wednesday, a lawyer for the limousine company, Lee Kindlon, said investigators were “jumping the gun” in arresting and charging Hussain.
The crash has also raised questions about the regulation and oversight of stretch limousines, specially made vehicles that are built from former cars or sport utility vehicles and often do not have to meet strict federal safety requirements, media reports said.