ALBANY — The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday faulted three state agencies in its report on a 2018 limousine crash that took 20 lives upstate, saying the limousine that sped downhill at more than 100 mph into a T intersection was inadequately equipped and inadequately regulated.
Federal inspectors, in a 2,500-page report, found that the limo had inadequate brakes for an SUV stretched into a limousine and faulted the state’s "ineffective oversight of intrastate motor carrier operations."
Just weeks before the crash in Schoharie County, state officials had ordered the limo to go out of service until the brakes were fixed but had said they didn’t believe they had the authority to seize the license plates.
"Knowing this tragedy could have been prevented on numerous occasions, by those who are entrusted to protect us, makes this crash even more heartbreaking," said NTSB chairman Robert L. Sumwalt at an online meeting of the federal board.
The Oct. 6, 2018, crash of the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo killed 17 passengers, including young people celebrating a friend’s birthday, and two pedestrians. The limo driver also was among those who died.
The NTSB report said the limo driver swerved around a stopped vehicle on Route 30 as he approached the intersection with Route 30A and drove into a restaurant parking lot, hitting an unoccupied sport utility vehicle, which was flung into the two pedestrians.
The NTSB board also said state police delayed their investigation and potential remedies.
"Some NTSB investigators were outright blocked from even viewing, let alone examining, critical evidence," Sumwalt said.
A judge provided access Jan. 29.
"The NTSB has been fully aware that the criminal case is the priority, and the vehicle had to be processed by the state police and the defense before they could conduct a hands-on examination," said state police spokesman William Duffy. State police said only the court could make it available to the NTSB.
"I want to be crystal clear about this," Sumwalt said. "It is not normal for the NTSB investigation to be impeded by a criminal investigation."
He said the report should "result in New York State exercising greater oversight … and tougher enforcement."
The departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles defended their actions under law at the time, which has since been bolstered by the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with regulations toughening restrictions on stretch limos.
"We exercised the full authority granted to us under the law and ordered that vehicle off the road multiple times, but as NTSB’s own reports on this crash reaffirm, Prestige repeatedly violated New York State law," the agencies stated.
The owner of the limo company named Prestige Limousine, Nauman Hussain, still faces charges of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. The NTSB said the company showed an "egregious" lack of concern for safety.
Since the crash nearly two years ago, families of victims have criticized the state for not sidelining the limousine over safety violations and also for the design of the road downhill to the T intersection in Schoharie County.
The NTSB said assessing blame for the crash is up to the courts.
A July 2015 limo crash in Cutchogue, which left four young women dead, prompted the state to adopt a law that bars limousines from U-turns, which the driver was attempting at the time of the crash.