NTSB: NYS DOT, DMV had sufficient evidence to prevent Schoharie Limousine tragedy

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SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted the findings in the Schoharie Limousine crash investigation unanimously during their virtual meeting Tuesday morning. The board found violations were made by Prestige Limousine, The New York State Department of Transportation, The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and New York State Police.

The NTSB determined the probable causes of the crash were the total disregard for safety the company, Prestige Limousine had by dispatching a limo with an out of service order. Other contributing factors were oversights made by the DOT and DMV.

“The report clearly demonstrates that Prestige Limousine. Mavis Discount Tire and the state of New York failed to protect 20 innocent lives,” said NTSB Board Member, Michael Graham

The NTSB found the State Agencies and State Police had sufficient evidence to stop the company from operating prior to the crash but failed to take action. The board members also pointed out the lack of cooperation by the State of New York complicated and elongated the investigation.

“There was a series of bad decisions, bad actors and people failing to take responsibility for their actions. I think New York has figured out that their DOT and DMV were sorely lacking. They were supposed to be enforcing this,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.  

“I’m incredibly angry, and I’m so sad.”

Cynthia LaFave represents some of the victim families in a civil lawsuit. LaFave says she is upset about how many people failed to do their jobs. 

“All of them contributed to letting this happen. This was a horrible tragedy with so many lives that were lost,” said LaFave.  

The board voted to adopt two national and four state recommendations.

New Recommendations

To the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

1. Provide guidance and best practices to states to enforce carrier compliance with state-issued out-of-service orders, based on available information on state efforts to prevent vehicles and drivers from continuing to operate without authority or after being cited for out-of-service violations.

To the Governor of the State of New York:

2. Require the New York State Department of Transportation to implement the “key recommendations” in the 2014 New York Office of the State Comptroller Report 2012-S-13 addressing vehicle repair certification requirements, strategies to improve carrier compliance with out-of-service violations, and progressive enforcement actions for continued operation of out-of-service vehicles.

3. Require the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt the New York State Department of Transportation’s definition of a bus as a passenger vehicle for hire with a seating capacity of 10 or more.

To the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles:

4. Review your policies and protocols on the inspection of stretch limousines and establish stricter safeguards and more rigorous enforcement protocols to ensure that state-contracted inspection stations do not inspect stretch limousines that have a seating capacity of 10 or more.

5. Renotify state-contracted inspection stations that they may not inspect stretch limousines that have a seating capacity of 10 or more.

To the National Limousine Association:

6. Inform your member limousine operators of the importance of verifying the safety of altered vehicles planned for passenger transportation by ensuring that the altered vehicle passes a structural and mechanical safety inspection, obtaining from the alterer an engineer’s certification that the altered vehicle meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety 7 Standards affected by the alteration, and checking that a secondary certification label is affixed to the limousine before purchase.

A summary of the crash was provided by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt during opening statements. He said the crash happened when the limousine was at the end of a 1.8-mile stretch of downhill road reaching speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour.

The limousine then crashed into an unoccupied SUV where it struck and killed two nearby pedestrians upon impact. The limo crashed into a ravine and struck an embankment and several trees.

Twenty people died as a result of the crash: the driver, 17 passengers, and two pedestrians. 

As a result of the investigation, the NTSB found there was an inadequate brake system in place. In a presentation, staff members said the brake line was crimped and could have restricted the amount of fluid able to flow through to the right rear brake. Parts of the line were coated in brake fluid, which indicated a leak.

Staff members said if the brakes in the limousine were adequate, the operator of the limousine might have been able to prevent the crash by stopping at the bottom of the hill.

Sumwalt asked the staff members to present the speed the vehicle was operating at before the crash. The crash data calculated a range of speeds between about 101 miles an hour and 118 miles-per-hour as it went downhill. The speed after it hit the SUV was decreased to about eighty miles an hour.

The National Transportation Safety Board is saying the local authorities are to blame for the crash, evidence shows the limousine company had several violations that should have kept the company from being in service.

The company failed to pass several inspections, some statistics provided by the NTSB say that the out of service rate for the Prestige Limousine company was 80% compared to the National average of 6.2%, that means the company that caused the crashed had an out of service rate 13 times greater than the national average.

Additionally, the out of service rate for the drivers was 100%, compared to the National Average of 4.2%. That means that out of service rate for drivers was 25 times that of the national average.

The crash has sparked national and state legislation for limo reforms. There is also a criminal investigation underway which led to charges for Nauman Hussain who is the operator of Prestige Limo.

The public docket for the report was released last month and once the meeting is over and the board votes on recommendations a final report will be made available to the public. The report on the crash is expected to be finalized in a few weeks.

The New York State Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles sent NEWS10 a joint statement.

“The findings clearly demonstrate the shocking extremes to which the owners of Prestige went to break the law and falsify State and federal compliance records. 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 and was never authorized at any time to operate for-hire commercial passenger vehicle service in the State.‎ New York has since enacted the nation’s most aggressive laws governing commercial vehicle safety.  These new laws provide for increased passenger protections, heightened civil and criminal penalties, and strengthened enforcement provisions.”

DOT Spokesperson Joe Morrissey and DMV Spokesperson Lisa Koumjian

NEWS10 reached out to the Schoharie County District Attorney’s office for comment. Their statement is listed below:

Due to legal and ethical restrictions, we are unable to answer questions until the case against Nauman Hussain is concluded. Without discussing this particular case, District Attorneys and NTSB have different obligations and responsibilities which we both must adhere to.

Schoharie County District Attorney

Cathy Chase, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President issued the following statement on the findings of the NTSB:

“Today’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meeting on the October 6, 2018 limousine crash in Schoharie, NY reveals failures on multiple levels that led to one of the deadliest transportation crashes our nation has ever experienced.  Bipartisan legislation by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as well as Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) which would address glaring safety gaps identified during the NTSB investigation should be advanced without delay.  Requiring lap and shoulder belts for all passengers and ensuring that seating arrangements in limos meet minimum performance standards during a crash are commonsense steps that must be taken to prevent these types of tragedies.  Also critical to limo safety are thorough oversight of companies’ safety performance and consumer information.  Limousine rides are commonly associated with some of the most wonderful events in one’s life.  Sadly, due to unacceptably weak standards and oversight identified by the NTSB, a crash involving a limousine can turn someone’s happiest day into their worst nightmare.”

Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

This story is developing, more information will be added as it is presented.

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