SCHOHARIE — The operator of the limousine company involved in the Schoharie crash that killed 20 people is challenging a judge’s decision to toss out a plea agreement that avoided jail time.
Attorneys for Nauman Hussain, who operated Prestige Limousine, on Friday filed a proceeding in the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court seeking to overturn state Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch’s surprise decision at what was expected to be a final sentencing in August.
The filed petition seeks to have Husain’s plea agreement and the negotiated sentencing terms reinstated, according to court records obtained by The Daily Gazette.
A court order signed by Justice John Egan on Monday directs Lynch to show cause for why the plea should not be reinstated. Lunch will appear before the Appellate Division on Dec. 5.
Lynch must further respond to the petition’s request for a stay of the criminal prosecution against Hussain until the proceeding is decided. He will also be asked to show why any further relief deemed proper by the court should not be granted.
Lee Kindlon, Hussain’s attorney, on Monday declined to comment on the pending litigation seeking to overturn Lynch’s decision.
Lynch in August rejected as “fundamentally flawed” a previously negotiated deal allowing Hussain to plead guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide in exchange for a recommended sentence of five years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
Former Justice George Bartlett had accepted the plea agreement in September 2021. But Lynch, who was assigned the case after Bartlett retired, instead gave Hussain the choice of withdrawing his guilty plea or accepting a 1⅓-to four-year prison sentence.
The plea was withdrawn and Hussain was set to stand trial on the criminally negligent homicide counts and 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter on May 1.
At the time, Lynch argued Hussain’s alleged removal of a state Department of Transportation out-of-service sticker from the limo driven during the crash showed that he knew and disregarded the risk of putting the vehicle on the road.
Prosecutors pointed to the plea as resolving the case, which could end in acquittal if it went to trial. Bartlett, while accepting the agreement, noted that although Hussain was documented cutting corners on maintenance, the investigation also presented details that undercut the case against him.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board primarily faulted Prestige and Hussain for not properly maintaining the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion limo that crashed on Oct. 6, 2018.
The limo was hired to drive a group of 17 friends and family mostly from Amsterdam to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown. All 17 passengers, the limo driver, and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store were killed at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie when the vehicle went out of control, hit the two pedestrians and crashed into an embankment. Prosecutors and police contend the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure, which led to the crash.
The limo had been ordered off the road by the state DOT prior to the crash, but the NTSB found there was ineffective DOT and state Department of Motor Vehicles oversight. Mavis Discount Tire also allegedly failed to repair the limo’s brakes and issued it a DOT inspection sticker despite knowingly lacking the authority to inspect large-capacity vehicles.
Only Hussain has faced criminal charges related to the crash to date. His father, Shahed, the owner of Prestige, was in Pakistan at the time of the crash and has not returned to the United States.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.