ALBANY, N.Y. — State police arrested the son of the limousine company's owner Wednesday in the crash that killed 20 people four days before and charged him with criminally negligent homicide.
Nauman Hussain, 28, of Gansevoort, New York, ran Prestige Limo in the Albany area. He was stopped earlier Wednesday on Interstate 787 near Albany, taken into custody and later charged with the class E felony, state police said. The one count encompasses all 20 deaths.
The arrest comes amid ongoing scrutiny of the 2001 Ford Excursion that crashed in the rural town of Schoharie after the vehicle failed to pass inspection twice this year, including last month. Hussain father, Shahed Hussain, owned the limo service but was in Pakistan at the time of the crash.
"The sole responsibility for that motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain," said Superintendent George Beach of the New York State Police.
The crime is punishable by up to four years in prison. Nauman Hussain pleaded not guilty and was arraigned in Cobleskill Town Court, about 10 miles from the crash site. He was released on $150,000 bail.
"My client is not guilty. Police jumped the gun in bringing charges," Lee Kindlon, Nauman Hussain's lawyer, told reporters.
"I knew that this day was going to come. I knew they were going to be charged criminally because somebody needs to point a finger," he said.
State police said Monday that the crash, the nation's worst in nine years, was being investigated as a criminal case as questions about the condition of the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine drew heavy scrutiny.
State police confirmed Wednesday that a state trooper had stopped the limousine's driver, Scott Lisinicchia, in late August in Saratoga Springs after he had driven 11 people in the same vehicle. Lisinicchia was cited for operating it without a proper license.
State police said the trooper advised both the driver and the company that Lisinicchia could not operate the vehicle without additional licensure.
"The trooper also took steps to ensure that the vehicle was taken off the road, returned to its original location and directed the driver not to drive the vehicle," state police said.
But police said the trooper did not have the legal authority to seize the plates or the vehicle during that stop.
The limousine failed two state inspections, in March and again in September, state Transportation Department officials said.
After the failed inspection Sept. 4, the state affixed a sticker taking the vehicle out of service, the department said.
But Lisinicchia was still driving when the crash occurred on a rural road in Schoharie that killed him, 17 passengers and two bystanders in the parking lot of a country store.
Shahed Hussain, the company's owner, was once an undercover informant for the FBI.
New York state’s criminal procedure law says a charge of criminally negligent homicide accuses a person of engaging in “blameworthy conduct so serious that it creates or contributes to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that another person's death will occur."
The crime is punishable by up to four years in prison if convicted, but sentencing guidelines allow for lighter penalties, including probation.