Federal investigators said Tuesday that a limo company’s “tremendous disregard for safety” was behind a 2018 crash that killed 20 people in New York state.
In a press release, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also accused the New York State Department of Transportation for contributing to the “ineffective supervision” of the Prestige Limousine company.
The agency said a break in the braking system of the modified SUV that a group of friends rented for a surprise party led to the October 6 crash, killing all 17 passengers, the driver and two pedestrians in rural Schoharie west of Albany Life came.
Among the dead were four sisters and three of their husbands.
Investigators concluded that the sedan driver likely tried – and failed – to apply the brakes when the SUV reached speeds of 100 mph as it sped down a steep hill, blew through an intersection, and fell into a ravine, said the agency.
“17 young people made the wise and safe decision to arrange sober transportation while partying,” said NTSB board member Michael Graham during a hearing earlier Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. “They put their trust and their security in a system designed to protect them and it failed.”
Prestige operator Nauman Hussain pleaded not guilty to 20 charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent murder. His trial was supposed to start in May but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the AP.
A lawyer representing Hussain did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The NTSB also said the state transportation department knew that Prestige had multiple service violations and was not allowed to operate. The SUV was also not properly registered with the State Department of Motor Vehicles, which allowed the company to bypass state safety regulations and strict inspection requirements, the agency said.
“Knowledge of this tragedy could have been prevented on numerous occasions by those entrusted to us, makes this crash even more heartbreaking,” said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB.
In a joint statement from the New York Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, regulators “exercised the powers we are given by law and ordered the vehicle off the road several times, but as NTSB’s own reports of the crash reconfirm, Prestige has repeatedly confirmed has violated New York State law and has never been permitted to operate a commercial car rental service in the state. “
The statement added that New York has since passed some of the strictest laws in the country overseeing the safety of commercial vehicles.