SCHOHARIE — Both sides rested Monday morning in the case against the limousine operator accused of failing to properly register and maintain the vehicle involved in the deadly Oct. 6, 2018 crash in Schoharie. Closing arguments will take place Tuesday.
Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery concluded her case against Nauman Hussain on Monday, just six days after the trial began. Attorneys on both sides originally estimated the case to last between four and six weeks.
Mallery — who called just two dozen of 136 potential prosecution witnesses — declined to talk to reporters on Monday, but said she would be available to answer questions once the case is in the jury’s hands.
Hussain, 33, was the operator of Prestige Limousine & Chauffeur Service, the Wilton-based company owned by his father which rented the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion SUV to a group of 17 friends from the Amsterdam area that would later crash after the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure while descending a steep hill on state Route 30.
All 17 passengers, the limo’s driver and two bystanders were killed after the vehicle crashed into a parked SUV in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store at speeds in excess of 100 mph before hitting an embankment. The incident remains the deadliest automobile wreck in the country in more than a decade.
After the prosecution rested, defense attorney Lee Kindlon did not call any witnesses. He said after the proceedings that the decision was “strategic” and that he believes many of the prosecution’s witnesses have proven that Hussain should not be held liable for the crash.
Hussain — who Kindlon said wanted to testify and is eager to address the community — faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for his alleged role in the crash. If convicted of the manslaughter counts, Hussain faces 15 years in prison.
“I think we were able to successfully adopt a number of the people’s witnesses to support our own theory of the case,” Kindlon said. “We had Mavis admitting that they committed fraud. We had their witnesses admitting they relied upon their own mechanics to tell them that the work had been done. I think we were able to successfully use the people’s witnesses against them.”
@dgazette Sides rest in Schoharie limo crash trial; Closing arguments now set for Tuesday – 5/15/23
Kindlon tried twice Monday to have the case against Hussain dismissed, arguing prosecutors were unable to prove his client could have known the vehicle’s brakes would fail and again blaming Mavis for its failure to properly service the vehicle.
But state Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch, who is presiding over the case, rejected to move both times, concluding that when the evidence is examined as a whole, it could be determined that Hussain acted recklessly.
“A random juror could reasonably conclude that the defendants actions rose to an unreasonable risk,” Lynch said.
Lynch previously also rejected a plea deal that Hussain accepted in 2021 through which he would have plead guilty to the criminally negligent homicide counts in exchange for probation and community service, calling the deal “completely disingenuous and unacceptable to this court.”
Kindlon — who said his closing arguments will last about an hour — also made a motion to have misdemeanor reckless endangerment added to the list of potential charges for which his client could be convicted. Lynch is expected to make a final decision to accept the motion Tuesday morning before closing statements.
“We have an opportunity with this jury to explain that, if perhaps Nauman was reckless in his conduct, he had no way of knowing people were going to die,” he said. “Maybe if they find recklessness, they could go to the lesser, misdemeanor included offense. We want to give the jury as many options as possible.”
Prosecutors have called on a number of witnesses since the trial began trying to paint a picture that Hussain was aware that the limo involved in the crash was supposed to be subjected to state Department of Transportation regulations, but was improperly registered with the DMV, allowing the vehicle to skirt the regulations that could have prevented the wreck.
Last week, Chad Smith, a DOT inspector, testified that he notified Hussain on numerous occasions over the course of more than a year that the vehicle was not compliant with state regulations and was subject to rigorous DOT inspections twice a year, and that he provided Hussain with information on how to bring the vehicle into compliance.
Smith twice ordered the vehicle out-of-service after completing a pair of roadside inspections on the stretched SUV, including once in September 2018, just a month prior to the crash. The out-of-service stickers that Smith placed on the vehicle’s windshield were removed.
One of the stickers was later recovered in Hussain’s personal vehicle, with his DNA on it, at the time of his arrest just days after the crash.
Prosecutors also called on a state police investigator who came into contact with the vehicle in Saratoga Springs in August 2018 and issued the limo’s driver a citation for not having the proper certification to transport passengers. The driver, Scott Lisinicchia, was issued a citation and ordered to no longer operate the vehicle until properly certified, in front of Hussain.
Lisinicchia was driving the limo at the time of the crash and was never properly certified. The cause of the crash was determined to be catastrophic brake failure, not driver error.
Brian Chase, who performed a forensic analysis of the crash vehicle, determined that a corroded brake line which should have been replaced years earlier burst just prior to the wreck, rendering the limo’s rear brakes inoperable and putting additional strain on the front brakes, which overheated and caused the brake fluid to boil. Several of the rear brake components were inoperable prior to the crash, according to Chase, who testified that if the vehicle was subject to the inspections as required by law, the faulty parts would have been caught and replaced.
But Kindlon has focused much of the case on testimony given by the former manager and mechanics of the Mavis Discount Tire repair shop in Saratoga Springs that serviced the vehicle’s brakes in the months leading up to the crash and placed a DMV inspection sticker on the vehicle.
Virgil Park, the former manager of the shop, said he told Hussain to “burn” the vehicle in June 2018, and told the operator it would cost between $800 and $1,000 to properly repair the brakes and that it was unknown if the repairs would solve the issues the vehicle was experiencing.
But, Park also admitted that the shop charged Hussain for work that was never completed in May 2018, including the installation of a master brake cylinder and a brake line flush, and never notified Hussain despite the company servicing the brakes again in June and July 2018. Park also said that he was not aware that DMV inspections could not be performed on limousines and that he ordered one of his mechanics, Thomas Klingman, to inspect the vehicle using his personal DMV inspection certification.
Klingman said he never actually performed the inspection, but just passed the vehicle after Park “pressured” him into doing so.
“He’s my boss,” Klingman said. “I’m not looking to get fired.”
Chase determined that the master cylinder was not the cause of the crash.
Prosecutors have focused on the fact that the vehicle was not properly registered with DMV, which allowed the inspection to go through and that Hussain was aware that the limo’s brakes could not be guaranteed.
But Kindlon suggested that Mavis should face charges for misleading his client.
“The statute of limitations is running, and the district attorney in Saratoga County should take note,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.