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Limousine company owner found guilty of manslaughter in deadly 2018 crash that killed 20 people after withdrawing plea on lesser charges after judge tosses no-jail deal

Nauman Hussain

Nauman Hussain, who ran the limousine company involved in the 2018 crash that killed 20 people, walks outside during a lunch break in a new trial in Schoharie, N.Y., on Monday, May 1, 2023. Judge Peter Lynch rejected a plea agreement for Hussain to avoid prison time. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

The man responsible for a limousine crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York during a 2018 birthday party outing was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday.

Nauman Hussain, 32, was found guilty by a Schoharie County jury on 20 counts of manslaughter in the second degree – one count for each victim – and faces the prospect of serving up to 15 years in state prison, according to the Times Union.

Jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations, and shortly after, they asked the judge overseeing the case to explain the difference between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, the paper reported.

Hussain also could have been convicted on that secondary and lesser charge if the jury found that his behavior leading up to the crash was not reckless under Empire State law.

In the end, prosecutors convinced Hussain’s peers that his upkeep of the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine was an intentional violation of maintenance regulations that amounted to recklessness.

The incident occurred on Oct. 6, 2018, at New York State Routes 30 and 30A. Hussain’s company, Prestige Limousine of Wilton, had been hired to take a party of 17 friends from Amsterdam to Cooperstown for Amy Steenburg’s 29th birthday celebration at a local brewery.

At the intersection, the limousine’s brakes gave way. The large car collided head-on with a Toyota Highlander and then barreled into a ditch. The driver, all 17 passengers and two people standing next to the smaller SUV, died. Among the dead were sisters, brothers, and married couples.

The names of those who died are:

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 Halfmoon; Amanda D. Halse, 26, of Halfmoon; Erin R. McGowan, 34, of Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, of Amsterdam; Amanda Rivenberg, 29, of Colonie; Adam G. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, of Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 33, of Johnstown; Brian Hough, 46, of Moravia, Cayuga County; James Schnurr, 70, of Kerhonkson, Ulster County; and Scott Lisinicchia, 53, Lake George.

The 20 deaths outside the Apple Barrel Store & Cafe marked the worst highway transportation disaster in over a decade in the U.S.

The site of a limousine crash in upstate New York

In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 file photo, a limousine, left, has landed in the woods following a fatal crash in Schoharie, N.Y. The operator of a limousine company pleaded not guilty Wednesday, April 10, 2019, to 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in a crash that killed 20 people in rural upstate New York. (Tom Heffernan Sr. via AP, File)

The case itself has been a whirlwind. With little time to prepare, the state successfully argued Hussain failed to obtain “operating authority” from the New York Department of Transportation after buying the poorly-serviced SUV in 2016.

Seeking such authority, prosecutors said, would have subjected the limo to a rigorous testing and inspection process, the same standards school buses are subjected to in New York. The state argued if Hussain had gone through with that process, the brake problems would have been caught.

The defense argued that employees at the Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs were to blame.

During trial Virgil Park, the ex-manager, testified about falsifying work on an invoice for brake service Hussain had paid for five months before the crash, the Times Union reported.

“Hussain had true belief that he had repaired the brake system, that the brakes were in fine and working order,” Kindlon told jurors in comments reported by the Associated Press. “The people could not prove that Nauman Hussain knew or even should have known that Mavis falsified the repair maintenance and safety inspections.”

The defense’s argument wasn’t enough.

Relatives of the defendant were reportedly in shambles, distraught and crying after the verdict. Some audience members cheered.

Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery was initially unprepared to try the case – and worked hard to avoid a trial.

In September 2021, she and the defendant reached a plea deal on 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide that would have resulted in no jail time. All the manslaughter charges against him were dropped in exchange for the plea. Hussain formally admitted his legal culpability and completed a year of interim probation under the deal and half of an agreed-upon 1,000 community service hours.

Mallery’s first choice had always rankled some victims’ family members. But eight months ago, well after the judge who oversaw the plea deal retired, his replacement, Supreme Court Judge Peter Lynch, tossed the agreement – calling it illegal. Lynch said he would refuse to abide by those terms during a sentencing hearing. Hussain’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, sued to enforce the original deal, to no avail.

When the deal was abandoned, Hussain withdrew his guilty plea to avoid the maximum penalty for criminally negligent homicide – which Lynch told him was 16 months to five years in state prison. The defendant faces at least five years behind bars.

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