Limo company operator in New York crash charged with homicide

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The operator of a limousine company that owned the vehicle involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York was charged on Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide, New York State Police said.

Nauman Hussain, 28, was charged with one felony count related to the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in nearly a decade. All 20 victims were listed on the charging document.

Hussain was issued written violations by police and the state Department of Transportation that the driver he hired should not have been operating the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in Saturday's crash.

The state ordered that vehicle out of service in September and it should not have been on the road, New York State Police Superintendent George Beach said.

"The sole responsibility for the motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain," Beach said.

Hussain is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday evening in Schoharie, New York.

Shahed Hussain, Nauman's father and the owner of Prestige Limousine, was not in the country and more charges were possible, Beach said.

The company's lawyer, Lee Kindlon, told a news conference on Wednesday that he intended to defend Nauman Hussain against any charges.

Kindlon said on Tuesday that safety violations issued last month on the limousine involved in the accident were largely minor and had not caused the crash.

The vehicle, carrying 17 people on their way to a birthday party on Saturday, ran a stop sign at a highway intersection in Schoharie, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Albany, police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

It crashed into an unoccupied parked car and two pedestrians before coming to a halt in a shallow ravine, officials said. The driver, all 17 passengers and the two pedestrians were killed.

George Longworth, an attorney for the family of the driver, 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, said on Tuesday that his family "believes that unbeknownst to him, he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants."

Before the crash, one of the victims, Erin McGowan, texted a friend that the limousine appeared to have engine trouble, the New York Times reported.

State authorities and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bill Berkrot)