Limo operator found guilty of manslaughter in 2018 Schoharie crash
A jury in the Schoharie limo trial has found the operator of the limousine company involved guilty of manslaughter.
A 12-person jury deliberated Tuesday and Wednesday before finding Prestige Limousine operator Nauman Hussain guilty of 20 counts – one for each victim killed in the October 2018 crash.
Investigators say the limo that lost its brakes traveled at more than 100 miles per hour before crashing in a store parking lot at the bottom of a steep hill.
The prosecution argued Hussain intentionally failed to follow vehicle maintenance regulations and had not replaced the limo’s brakes.
Hussain’s defense said the 33-year-old tried to maintain the limo and relied on what he was told by a repair shop.
Management at Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs admitted during the trial to falsifying invoices for brake work on the limo.
The trial came after a judge threw out a 2021 plea deal where Hussain pleaded guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide in exchange for probation and community service.
He now faces up to 15 years in prison May 31.
The families of the crash victims over the last four and a half years have been vocal advocates for limousine safety reforms at the state and federal level.
Kevin Cushing, who lost his son Patrick in the crash, served on New York’s Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force.
Minutes after leaving court Wednesday, WAMC’s Lucas Willard spoke to Cushing about the verdict.
Cushing: We're pretty exhilarated with the fact that number one, we’ve got a conviction. And we got a conviction on the count of manslaughter as opposed to criminally negligent homicide. We weren't really sure going into jury deliberations which way the jury would go. And we couldn't be more pleased that they took the bigger charge.
Willard: If you don't mind me rewinding a little bit, how did you feel going into this trial just a couple of weeks ago?
Well, I think the very fact that there was going to be a trial as opposed to the previous plea deal was great news for us. We were least going to be heard through a trial and through witnesses about what happened, how it happened, and who was responsible for it. So, we at least felt that there was a chance for some justice to what in reality I don't think any of the family members believe there can be real justice when you lose a loved one. And there were 20 lost loved ones in this accident.
I was in court the day that the plea deal was reached. And I know how shocked and disappointed many of the victims’ families were at that moment. How does that compare to today with today's decision?
Cushing: It was a total opposite feeling. I mean, it was an empty sick feeling, the original plea deal. And today I think there was pure joy, that finally there's going to be some justice and the defendant is going to have to pay a price for his actions. We're thrilled with that and I can't speak for everyone, but I think we're really happy that the trial is finished, and justice has been served.
Did you stay in communication with the other families throughout this trial? Did you speak with them during this process?
We've all stayed in touch over the last four and a half plus years. I mean, we're kind of like a different kind of family, because we share the tragedy. And things happen to people during the course of those four and a half years, and they need to be propped up by friends and people that have a shared experience with them. So yes, I and pretty much all of the family members have stayed together through messaging and phone calls, and on occasions even getting together personally.
How was it sitting in that courtroom over the last couple of weeks? What was going through your head?
Well, reading about the evidence and then hearing the evidence at the trial. It’s a bit more surreal. And it's real. And you're listening to it. You're watching it being presented, you're looking at the jurors, you know what you're feeling about what the evidence is all about? You're hoping they're hearing it the same way. There wasn't a defense put on by the defendant. So really, all we heard was the evidence put into the record that showed that they believe that the defendant was guilty of manslaughter and or criminally negligent homicide. So, it wasn't great to hear the evidence. But in hearing it, we felt who can hear this and not fenced punishment is in order for those actions.
Did the jury deliberation process come sooner than you expected?
Yeah, it did. It was about two hours yesterday tops. And pretty much half a day today. There was quite a bit of evidence that was put into the record by the prosecution. And I wasn't surprised that we got a verdict today, but I wouldn't have been surprised if we didn't get something tomorrow or the following day. I mean, there was a lot to digest. The jurors seem to be very attentive during the entire process. And I'm thankful for their service. I'm thankful for their decision making.
I've spoken to Times Union reporter Larry Rulison, who's covered this closely, and he spoke about how the judge during this trial did not want graphic photos or descriptions during this case. Was that a relief to you?
Cushing: Very much so. Because I made a commitment to myself and really just myself that I wanted to attend trial every day. Knowing full well that if all the evidence was presented, there was going to be some very, very difficult things to hear and even more difficult things to see. I was not looking forward to that and I was trying to figure out a way that I wouldn't have to subject myself to that kind of horror. As it turned out, they stipulated much of that evidence, both the defense and the prosecution and I'm grateful and I think every family member is grateful that we didn't have to be put through that horrible situation to see unfortunately, the same gory details that surrounded that scene.
Nevertheless, was it difficult to hear the arguments throughout the trial?
Of course. Obviously, we sit on one side of the courtroom and the defense is on the other side of the courtroom. And I mean, it's not a sporting event by any stretch. It's people's lives that are really at stake here. It's important and it needs to be done right. And I can't say enough about the judge. He held a very, very efficient trial. We thought he was fair in his rulings. Judge Lynch, is to be commended for how he handled that trial for I think both the prosecution and the defense I thought he did an absolutely great job.
We are speaking just minutes, really, after the verdict was issued. But did you speak with any of the other families upon the verdict’s delivery or immediately afterward?
Well, my wife and I hugged pretty much every family member that was there. We cried together, we hugged together. We smiled, cried, every emotion you can possibly think of was evident in that courtroom. And we're going to be back there in two weeks for the penalty phase.
The sentencing is scheduled for May 31. But after the sentencing is completed, do you intend to remain an advocate for limo safety laws at both the state and federal level?
I'm still on the state's Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force. We haven't been meeting. I think we probably should be meeting but I didn't complain too loudly because I was pretty busy with the trial and such. But going forward, absolutely. Both my wife and I want to be an advocate for limousine safety. And next we're really going to go after grieving families, which is again, going through the legislature. I believe it's passed by the Senate, and it's I think it's on the agenda for the Assembly this week. We think it's important that legislation gets passed.
That's the Grieving Families Act.
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