Limo owner found guilty of 20 counts of manslaughter from 2018 Schoharie limo crash

May 18—SCHOHARIE — After nearly five years, the owner of the limousine that crashed on a Saturday afternoon in October 2018 has been found guilty for the deaths of the driver, 17 passengers, including a young Watertown couple, and two pedestrians.

In a Schoharie County courthouse Wednesday, Nauman Hussain, co-owner and operator of the company that rented the limo to a group of family and friends headed to a birthday party on Oct. 6, 2018, was found guilty of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter.

He is set to be sentenced on May 31, when he could face up to 15 months in prison. The jury took less than a day to deliver the verdict, after a trial initially expected to take up to six weeks. It lasted about two weeks from opening to closing arguments.

In 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board released its investigation results, finding that the limousine brake system had failed, sending the vehicle plummeting at more than 100 mph down a hill in Schoharie County, through an intersection and into the parking lot of a popular diner.

Two people eating a meal with their families in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Cafe were killed when the limo plowed through the lot and into a shallow ravine nearby. All 18 occupants of the limousine died in the crash, including driver Scott Lisinicchia, who did not have the proper commercial driving license to operate a vehicle with that many passengers.

Among the dead were Mary E. and Robert J. Dyson, a couple in their early 30s raising a then 3-year-old son in Watertown. Mrs. Dyson, an Army veteran who served in the Army Corps of Engineers, was the vice president of local construction company Upstate Construction Services. She helped build an air traffic control tower, hangar and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy building on Fort Drum. She was also a crossfit coach at Star-Spangled Crossfit in Watertown's Northland Plaza.

Mr. Dyson worked for Stebbins Manufacturing and Engineering as a senior estimator. He and Mrs. Dyson graduated from Clarkson University, and were remembered by family and friends as being dedicated to raising their young son, Issac C. Dyson.

That crash in 2018 was one of the worst land transportation accidents in a decade in the U.S., and led to a major change in safety regulations for limousine companies at the state and federal levels. Experts have noted the limousine industry has undergone major changes, phasing out many of the once-popular stretch limousines created by modifying SUVs.

In an extra twist that has warranted the continued attention of Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, the father and main owner of the company, Shahed Hussain, was found to be a longtime FBI informant who apparently repeatedly ran into trouble with law enforcement, only to have that trouble disappear. The elder Hussain has remained in his home country of Pakistan since before the crash occurred.

Schoharie County District Attorney Susan J. Mallery argued in her prosecution of the younger Hussain that the company he and his father owned, Prestige Limousine, was shoddily run and dishonest about oversight and safety regulations with its customers. Citing testimony from state Department of Transportation inspectors, the prosecution pointed out that the younger Hussain had removed a sticker pasted to the limousine's window indicating it was out of service due to a brake failure. Customers were also not made aware that their driver was not properly licensed to operate the 31-foot modified 2001 Ford Excursion.

The defense argued that while Hussain had received a number of vehicle violations and removed the DOT out-of-service sticker, he took the vehicle to a local repair shop and asked that the brakes be serviced.

His defense said fault for the deadly crash was with the staff at a local Mavis Discount Tire, who damaged the rear brake system and failed to repair the damage or properly inspect the vehicle before placing an inspection sticker on it and returning it to Hussain in September 2018. In court testimony, it was confirmed that Hussain had been misled by the Mavis manager about what work had been done on the limo.

That auto shop has repeatedly been found liable in civil suits over its involvement, but was not found liable criminally, although Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen has said she may investigate the employees of the tire shop.

But ultimately the prosecution's argument convinced the jury, who delivered their verdict after less than eight hours of full deliberation over two days. Hussain, who at one point had agreed to a deal with prosecutors that would have had him serve no jail time that was later undone by the judge, was remanded to the custody of the Schoharie County Sheriff's Office and held in the Schoharie County jail while he awaits sentencing in about two weeks.