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The limousine Scott Lisinicchia crashed into a parked car upstate on Saturday, killing 19 people and himself, had reportedly been in a state of irresponsible disrepair long before the state officially flagged it as inappropriate for service. One passenger who rented the vehicle for his wedding a year ago described it as fit for a "scrap yard" even then, raising more questions as to what, exactly, this thing was doing on the road in the first place.
New York Department of Transportation spokesperson Joseph Morrissey told the Times Union on Tuesday evening that state inspectors had sidelined the vehicle, a modified 2001 Ford Excursion, on September 4th. Various "code violations" led the DOT to bar Prestige Limousines from dispatching the limo until future inspections determined it fit for use.
Although Prestige told the Times Union that they had addressed the vehicle's problems and that the DOT had subsequently cleared it for service, Morrissey called that claim "categorically false," an assertion inspection records support. That, in turn, makes a separate report that Prestige attempted to sell the limo on Craigslist just two days before the accident all the more damning. According to the Times Union, which published a screenshot of the post, Prestige listed the death trap for $9,000, describing it as being in "excellent" condition and "DOT ready" with a mere 180,000 miles on the odometer.
— Times Union (@timesunion) October 9, 2018
On Saturday afternoon, Lisinicchia sped through a stop sign at the T intersection of Schoharie Route 30 and 30A, careening through the Apple Barrel County Store parking lot. He fatally struck two pedestrians and hit unoccupied car. Lisinicchia had been transporting a group of friends to Ommegang Brewery for a birthday celebration, after the party bus they'd originally booked broke down and Prestige sent them the limo as a replacement. Its dangerously junky state was evidently obvious to the passengers, one of whom texted a friend that "the motor is making everyone deaf."
Lisinicchia had, it turns out, been ticketed in August for transporting 11 people in the Excursion because he lacked the commercial driver's license with a passenger endorsement that would have allowed him to legally chauffeur groups. He had allegedly been told that he was "out of service" and would need the proper permit before he could do any more commercial driving. But Lisinicchia, too, reportedly harbored reservations about the condition of his employer's fleet, telling his stepson that he "didn't really want to do the job" on Saturday because, as the stepson put it, the cars were "pieces of crap."
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 8, 2018
According to previous passengers, the Excursion in question had been a "piece of crap" for quite a while. One Andrew LaRose told NBC 13 in Albany that he and his wife rented a limo from Prestige—operating under the name Saratoga Luxury Limousine at the time—to drive them on their wedding day in October 2017. LaRose recalled feeling disappointed when the Excursion, driven by Lisinicchia, rolled up: "The thing should've been in the scrapyard," LaRose said. "Air conditioner was broken, there was duct tape that was painted white, rocker panels were rusted, it looked like it went through a chop shop."
Lisinicchia, too, alarmed LaRose by driving erratically after he arrived 45 minutes late to pick up the wedding party. Lisinicchia, who had two substance-related arrests on his record, reportedly behaved unprofessionally.
"When he came back to the reception, I noticed there were empty beer cans in the back," LaRose recalled. "I noticed that he had a second passenger sitting shotgun right next to him and I asked him, 'Who is this?' and he started getting pretty upset with me and you know one thing led to another and vulgarity was used by him and it was my wedding day, so I took a step back, waited a few days and contacted the manager and he could have cared less."
Speaking to the Times Union, LaRose said he felt like the victim of a "bait and switch" when the vehicle showed up, and that the whole experience "was kind of shady to begin with."
"It was a piece of junk," he said. "The struts felt like they were going to fall right through."
Morrissey declined to comment on behalf of the DOT, because "this is an active criminal investigation." An attorney for Prestige did not respond to our request for comment. The owner of Prestige is reportedly of the country; according to the Times Union his son, Nauman Hussain, met with investigators on Monday. We will continue to update as the story develops.
Update 12:40: The Times Union reports that police took Nauman Hussain into custody on Wednesday, but have not yet clarified the charges against him. Nauman allegedly knew that state troopers ticketed Lisinicchia in August, and that the state required the Excursion to be taken off the road, because he was the operator of the company at the time. According to the NY Times, Prestige's attorney, Lee Kindlon, anticipates charges of criminally negligent homicide.
Update: Nuaman Hussain has officially been charged with criminally negligent homicide, according to the Times Union.