Families of limo victims frustrated

The limousine involved in the Oct. 6 crash that killed 20 people is shown in this photo in the ravine where it came to rest. (Source: National Transportation Safety Board website)

ALBANY — The Gloversville mother of two young men killed in the Oct. 6 limousine crash in Schoharie, and other victims’ families, are fired up over inaction by the state Assembly regarding limousine safety measures already approved by the state Senate.

Janet Steenburg — mother of Schoharie crash victims Axel J. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam and Richard M. Steenburg, 34, Johnstown; and mother-in-law of victim Amy L. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam — said Tuesday that the families of some of the 20 victims of the limousine crash have been trying to pass legislation in the state Legislature to make limousine travel safer.

Steenberg said that the state Senate unanimously passed nine limousine safety—related bills put forward June 6. But when it came to the state Assembly, she said only one “frivolous” measure passed before the legislature concluded its session last week.

She said she and other families are contacting all the media outlets so they can let the public know about the Assembly’s lack of action.

“We hope this is kind of an embarrassment,” Steenberg said.

Steenberg said the Schoharie crash families are trying to get the state Legislature to come back in “special” session, but she’s not sure that will happen.

Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate previously announced measures designed to prevent such future limo tragedies. But almost none of those bills may actually end up becoming law in 2019. The two chambers failed to work out differences before the year’s legislative session ended in the early morning hours Friday.

According to police accounts, 20 persons died in the crash of a Gansevoort-based Prestige Limousine & Chauffeur Service in the town of Schoharie.

State police said the 2001 Ford Excursion Prestige Limousine vehicle coming from Saratoga County on Oct. 6 had been traveling downhill toward the intersection of Route 30 and 30A in the town near the Apple Barrel Country Store. Troopers said the stretch limo failed to stop, crossing the highway before hitting an unoccupied SUV in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel, and two pedestrians nearby. The limousine then crashed into a shallow ravine, troopers said.

Limousine passengers killed were: Amanda R. Rivenburg, 29, of Colonie; Axel J. Steenburg; Richard M. Steenburg,; Amy L. Steenburg; Allison King, 31, Ballston Spa; Mary E. Dyson, 33, Watertown; Robert J. Dyson, 34, Watertown; Abigail M. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam; Matthew W. Coons, 27, Johnstown; Savannah D. Bursese, 24, Johnstown; Patrick K. Cushing, 31, Troy; Amanda D. Halse, 26, Troy; Erin R. McGowan, 34, Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, Amsterdam; Adam G. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 34, Johnstown.

Pedestrians standing in the Apple Barrel lot killed were Brian Hough, 46, Moravia; and James Schnurr, 70, Kerhonkson.

The limousine driver killed was Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George.

Mrs. Steenberg said that the one bill passed by the Assembly ended up not being what the family is seeking with regard to future limousine safety.

“The families have all gotten together,” she said. “We’re looking to get safety laws passed that would make things safer in limos.”

But Assembly Transportation Committee chairman — Democrat William Magnarelli — said coming to a compromise was impossible in such a short period of time because his own members had floated 29 limo safety bills of their own.

Steenberg said the Schoharie victims’ families on Tuesday issued a statement or letter as a response to Magnarelli.

The statement reads:

“The NYS Legislative session has now ended with little substantive legislative action that would address limousine safety. Limousine safety measures that could very well have saved the lives of the 20 members of our collective families. To say we are disappointed is an understatement. Our disappointment now turns to anger as legislators’ finger point and play the blame game — the Senate blaming the Assembly and the Assembly blaming the Senate.

“The reality is that NYS Government failed us. They failed the Cutchogue families in Long Island. They’ve failed the next limousine victims that will perish needlessly because the State failed to act.

“We are now being told to wait until the next Legislative session in January 2020,” the statement concluded. “Perhaps they believe we will go away, and the limo lobbyists can continue to feather the politicians campaign war chests. We are NOT going away. We are more determined that ever to hold our legislators accountable and to do their jobs. Yes, you DO work for us, so if that means a special session, then yes, the Governor needs to call a special session. We are willing to give those legislators a second chance…. something the victims of Oct. 6 never received.”

Lawyers from the Albany law firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo PC, on behalf of one of the victim’s parents, allege various safety issues associated with the crash. Their lawsuit claims that the operators kept the limousine on the road after it failed inspection for brake problems, as well as other issues.

Girvin & Ferlazzo filed the lawsuit Nov. 19 in state Supreme Court in Albany. The document, filed at the Albany County Clerk’s Office, was submitted by the parents of crash victim Amanda R. Rivenburg — Thomas and Donna Rivenburg. The 29-year-old Colonie woman had been employed at a non-profit aiding people with disabilities.

State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board haven’t yet released an official cause for the horrific limo crash, according to a preliminary report released Feb. 11.

The operator of the limousine company in April pleaded not guilty to 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in the crash. Nauman Hussain, 29, operator of Prestige Limousine, was released on $450,000 bond after his arraignment in Schoharie County Court and will be subject to electronic monitoring until his Sept. 9 trial. He had been free on $150,000 bond since his arrest in October.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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