Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the type of limousine involved. The vehicle was a Ford Excursion.
The modified limo that crashed and killed 20 people wasn’t even supposed to be on the road, New York’s governor said Monday.
On top of that, the driver “did not have the appropriate driver’s license to be operating that vehicle,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
The startling revelations brought more anguish to those grieving the deaths of 20 people in the quaint town of Schoharie. At least one victim seemed worried about the condition of the limo, according to text messages shared with the New York Times.
Before the disaster, the limo was full of exuberance – 17 birthday party guests who had many reasons to celebrate. There were newlyweds and young couples and four sisters, on their way to revel at an upstate New York brewery.
But for reasons still unknown, the limo plowed through a stop sign and crashed into a parked SUV, causing the deadliest US transportation accident in almost a decade.
All 17 passengers were killed. So was the limo’s driver and two pedestrians.
As more details emerge about the apparent broken rules, investigators also are wondering whether the unusual structure of the limo may have contributed to this mass tragedy. Federal, state and local investigators flooded Schoharie to try to understand what happened.
“We don’t know the cause of the accident, if it was a vehicle malfunction, if it was a driver malfunction (or) a driver error,” Cuomo said.
The birthday party guests were riding in a 2001 Ford Excursion that was converted into a limousine. As more details emerge about the apparent broken rules, investigators also are looking into whether the unusual structure of the limo may have contributed to this mass tragedy.
The limo recently failed inspection
The birthday party guests were riding in a 2001 Ford Excursion that was converted into a limousine. Those kinds of altered vehicles have worried officials, said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.
That’s because after-market modifications often affect a vehicle’s structural integrity and safety.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the vehicle had the following three violations in a September 4 inspection that earned it an “out of service” designation, meaning it could not be on the road because it poses an imminent hazard:
“The driver needed what’s called a CDL, a commercial driver license with a passenger endorsement. The driver did not have that proper license,” Cuomo added.
The limo company has been identified as Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service in Gansevoort, New York, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation.
US Department of Transportation records show Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service has two drivers and three vehicles. Its vehicles were inspected five times in the last two years, and the company has had four vehicles taken out of service.
In a statement Monday, the limo company said it “extends its deepest condolences to the family members and friends of those who tragically lost their lives on Saturday. We are performing a detailed internal investigation to determine the cause of the accident and the steps we can take in order to prevent future accidents.”
The company’s owner is currently in Pakistan, where he travels frequently. “He is ready and able to come back whenever they need him,” Kindlon said.
Cuomo said officials are working on “a cease-and-desist order to stop Prestige Limousine from operating until the investigation is concluded.”
State Police Maj. Robert Patnaude said authorities have located the limo company owner, Shahed Hussain, who is currently in Pakistan.
State Police & NTSB investigation continues
Patnaude said state police investigators have recovered the vehicle’s airbag control module, which is the equivalent of the black box.
“That company and that vehicle have been under scrutiny of [Department of Transportation] in the past,” he said, declining to elaborate.