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Feds: Company with limo in fatal crash failed brake, tire inspections

A lawyer for the driver's family blamed for the crash in Schoharie that killed 20 on the company, Prestige Limousine, based in upstate Gansevoort.

People mourn Monday at the site of the

People mourn Monday at the site of the fatal limousine crash in Schoharie, N.Y. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

The company whose stretch limousine was involved in a fatal upstate crash Saturday had two failed safety inspections for brakes, tires and a lack of emergency exits on its four-vehicle fleet, federal records show.

 The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in the crash also had two failed safety inspections, according to state records, and was for sale just before it was rented out to carry the 18 passengers to a birthday party.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a cease-and-desist order Monday to keep the company from operating within New York until the investigations conclude.

State Police investigating Saturday's horrific accident in Schoharie that killed 20, including the driver, identified Tuesday as Scott   Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George. The National Transportation Safety Board in its preliminary investigation said the driver didn’t have the required endorsement on his driver’s license to operate a 20-passenger limo, such as the one involved in the crash. 

A lawyer for the driver's family blamed the crash on the company, Prestige Limousine, based in upstate Gansevoort. All 18 people in the limousine died when the driver ran a stop sign, fatally struck two pedestrians and collided with a parked SUV in a lot.

"The family believes that unbeknownst to him he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants," said attorney George Longworth of Westchester County. "The Lisinicchia family is devastated by the horrific tragedy that occurred in Schoharie and their prayers go out to all the families that lost loved ones. They are mourning their husband, father and brother, and they are also grieving for the other innocent souls who lost their lives."

Federal records show the company's fleet had no crashes or injuries and needed no tows in the prior 24 months. They show the company employed two drivers who traveled a total of 3,500 miles in 2017, the latest year calculated. The NTSB had no other details of the company’s federal inspection history, spokesman Christopher O’Neil said Tuesday.

The federal Department of Transportation said that during the past 24 months, Prestige Limousine had an 80 percent out-of-service rate after five inspections resulted in four vehicles going out of service until repairs were made. That put the company at a low 21 percent of the average national out-of-service rate, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records.

The adequacy of state and federal safety inspections of the vehicle involved in the crash is part of what the NTSB is looking at, said Pete Kotowski, the lead investigator on the crash for the federal agency.

The NTSB is also evaluating the roadway where the crash took place -- two highways that converge from a steep hill to a T-intersection. That intersection was created by the state more than two years ago as a safety measure, to remove a gradual curve and reduce the steepness of the hill after several accidents there.

NTSB drones are comparing the current configuration with the road before the state work.

The NTSB also continues to look into whether the 17-year-old Ford Excursion was safely cut apart and stretched into a limousine, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss. Federal records  indicate the company isn't authorized to operate interstate but it wasn't clear whether that was the case before the crash.

Weiss said that question and whether the modification was done properly will likely be addressed in the NTSB's preliminary report, which he said should be released in coming weeks.

On the state side, Cuomo said Monday the vehicle involved in the crash failed an inspection last month, at least in part because the brakes didn’t pass. A state source said the vehicle failed another state safety inspection in March. The source said the inspections also cited violations of standards for brakes, tires and emergency exits.

An attorney for Prestige said Tuesday that the company's safety violations were fixed before the crash, and state and federal officials said the vehicles wouldn't be allowed to operate unless the safety violations were corrected. The attorney, Lee Kindlon, told CBS News he doesn’t think any recent infractions contributed to the crash. He told the Times Union of Albany the driver may have been unfamiliar with the roadway.

The Ford Excursion limo was apparently for sale just before the crash. A Craigslist item offered the limo for $9,000. The ad stated it was “DOT ready” with 180,000 miles and a phone number listed that matched Prestige Limousine. Shortly after the Albany Times Union publicized the item on Twitter, it appeared to have been removed from the online sales site.

Prestige Limousine said it had voluntarily taken its four limousines off the road and the company issued a statement Monday expressing condolences to the victims’ families and saying it was conducting “a detailed internal investigation” while also meeting with state and federal authorities.

State and federal investigators won’t speculate on a cause for the crash.

Cuomo meanwhile ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of the 20 people who died.

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

The two pedestrian victims were identified as Brian Hough, 46, of Moravia, and James Schnurr, 70, of Kerhonkson. 

The governor said three victims were state employees: Amy Steenburg was an employee in the Justice Center; Hough was a professor at SUNY Oswego; and Cushing was an employee for the State Senate.

“The entire family of New York mourns for the lives cut short in this crash,” Cuomo said.

With The Associated Press

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