The driver of the stretch limousine involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York on Saturday did not have the proper license to be operating the vehicle, New York State Police officials said Monday.

The limo, a converted 2001 Ford Expedition, also had failed at least one prior safety inspection and the company that owned it had a record of noncompliance with state and federal requirements, according to officials and public records.

Authorities seized the company’s vehicles Monday, as police investigated whether anyone was criminally liable. A separate safety probe, led by the National Transportation Safety Board, was underway at the crash site in Schoharie, about 30 miles west of Albany.

“We’ll determine if there is any criminal culpability on the part of anyone,” New York State Police Major Robert Patnaude said at a news conference.

Authorities said the limousine company, Prestige Limousine, was cooperating in the investigation. Its owner, Shahed Hussain, was out of the country, officials told reporters.

Federal motor carrier safety records indicate the company had a spotty record: Of five inspections over two years, four resulted in vehicles being taken out of service. The Gansevoort, New York-based company has three vehicles and two drivers, records show, although officials said three vehicles had been seized along with the one involved in the crash.


On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized Prestige for “putting a failed vehicle on the road.”

Cuomo told reporters the limousine driver had not been licensed to drive such a vehicle, and that the company would be ordered to cease and desist operations through the investigation.

“I think the owner of Prestige has a lot of questions to answer,” Cuomo said.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said among the things investigators will be looking into are the company, the driver, state and federal oversight, and the vehicle and its condition. Typically when SUVs are converted into limos, they are cut in half, stretched and converted. Sumwalt said the vehicle was configured for 19 seats; two up front, a rear-facing seat, a forward-facing seat in the back and seating on each side.

Some of the seats had lap shoulder belts, but it was unclear if all did or if passengers were wearing them. In New York, seatbelts are only required for the limo driver and front-seat passenger, he said.

Investigators also will be looking into “human performance” – the driver’s history and qualifications, conducting toxicology tests and determining whether fatigue was a factor, he said.


Officials urged anyone with information on the lead-up to the crash to come forward, including those with text messages or social media posts that could shed further light on the tragedy.

The limousine passengers, a close-knit group of 17 friends, had originally rented “some kind of bus” Saturday to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday, Valerie Abeling said. Her niece, 34-year-old Erin McGowan, was among those on what was supposed to be a fun-filled excursion to a brewery in Cooperstown, New York.

Somewhere along the way, Abeling said, the bus apparently broke down and the limousine was the replacement, she said.

Shortly after the white stretch limousine arrived, McGowan texted Abeling’s daughter to say the vehicle appeared to be in terrible condition.

Still, the group continued southwest on State Route 30. Some 20 minutes later, the limousine came over a steep hill and headed down toward a T-shaped intersection in Schoharie. Witnesses would later recall the limo blowing past a stop sign and plowing into the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe at the bottom of the hill, police said.

There, it struck a parked SUV and at least two pedestrians, before becoming lodged in a ditch at the side of the road, police said. The front end of the limo was crushed, forcing the engine into the driver compartment, NTSB officials said, describing the substantial “force and energy” required to create such extensive damage.


The crash killed everyone in the limousine, including the driver and all 17 passengers, police said. Two bystanders also were killed. The scene rattled even longtime investigators, who converged on the site over the weekend to begin trying to reconstruct what happened.

“You have 20 fatalities. . . . That’s very striking,” Sumwalt said. “This is the most deadly transportation accident or crash that we’ve seen on U.S. soil since February of 2009.”

He said the aim of the investigation was to determine how to prevent such a devastating crash from ever occurring again, and did not rule out that the probe could shed broader insights on the safety of passenger limousines themselves.

“It’s tragic. Horrible. I can’t even begin to even explain,” Abeling said in an interview Sunday from upstate New York, where her family was gathered. “Our lives have been changed forever.”

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