ALBANY — Almost immediately after a limousine crashed in upstate New York and killed 20 people, investigators bore down on the limousine company, which had a record of repeated safety violations. On Wednesday, they made their first move against the company, arresting its operator outside Albany and charging him with criminally negligent homicide.
The operator, Nauman Hussain, had been issued written violations earlier this year after vehicle inspections by the State Police and the state Department of Transportation, said George P. Beach II, the superintendent of the State Police.
Mr. Hussain is the son of Shahed Hussain, the owner of Prestige Limousine.
The driver whom Nauman Hussain hired — Scott Lisinicchia, who died in the accident — “should not be operating the type of vehicle involved in Saturday’s crash,” the superintendent said.
Mr. Hussain had also ignored orders from the transportation department that the limousine “should not have been on the road,’’ Superintendent Beach said.
“The sole responsibility for that motor vehicle being on the road this Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain,” he added.
Mr. Hussain, 28, was taken into custody by the State Police during a traffic stop on a highway in Watervliet, N.Y. He was charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide involving all 20 crash victims, and arraigned early Wednesday evening in Cobleskill, about 10 miles from the crash site in the small town of Schoharie.
He pleaded not guilty, and was released after posting $50,000 bail.
Superintendent Beach would not say whether Mr. Hussain’s father could also face charges, but he noted that the investigation was continuing and additional charges may be in the offing.
The arrest came four days after a stretch limousine, rented out by Prestige, ran through a stop sign, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow ravine. All 17 passengers and the limousine’s driver were killed, as were two pedestrians.
The family of the former FBI informant who owns the limousine involved in the fatal Schoharie crash has faced scrutiny at least twice for costly fires, including one that destroyed a Bentley luxury car and another that burned down a residence in Loudonville.
Neither Shahed Hussain nor his two sons, Nauman and Shahyer, were accused of wrongdoing in the incidents.
The first blaze occurred in October 2003 and, at the time, Shahed Hussain was working as an informant for the FBI in a counter-terrorism sting in Albany. His undercover role in the terror case brought FBI agents to the scene of the fire out of concern that someone may have identified their informant and wanted to kill him.
The fire destroyed the Route 9 residence and nearly killed Hussain’s wife, Yasmeem Begum, who was alone in the house and had been trapped on the second floor when it started.
In the 2003 blaze, a Loudonville residence owned by Begum — Shahed Hussain’s wife — caught fire on a Wednesday afternoon. Begum suffered minor burns when she tried to escape down an interior staircase and was forced to kick out a second-floor bathroom window and jump to safety.
It’s unclear whether Begum or Hussain collected an insurance policy for the loss of the residence. The burned shell of the residence remained untouched for two years. Begum later died in 2013, although no cause of death is listed in public records.
Was he trying to kill his wife?
Criminal negligence is where a defendant should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk and ignores or fails to appreciate that risk.
Unlike reckless conduct, the state is not required to prove that the defendant was aware of the risk, only that the circumstances were such that they ought to have been aware.
The state must also show the link between the defendant’s negligent actions and the death of another person or persons.
Criminally negligent homicide can involve a prison sentence of up to five years.