Schoharie, NY – The modified 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in the crash that killed 20 people on Saturday had failed a safety inspection in September and should not have been in operation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
The driver, identified as 53-year-old Scott Lisnicchia, also did not have a required commercial driver’s license, the governor said, according to NBC News.
The supersized limousine was taking 17 passengers to a birthday celebration at a brewery, when the driver blew through a stop sign at a “T” junction at the bottom of a hill, and slammed into an SUV parked outside the Apple Barrel Country Store and Café, the Star Tribune reported.
The SUV was unoccupied, but the limousine also struck two pedestrians nearby.
Both pedestrians and all 18 people inside the modified vehicle were killed in the horrific crash.
Prestige Limousine, which owns the vehicle, has undergone five inspections over the course of the past two years, the Star Tribune reported.
During that time, four of its vehicles were seized by investigators, New York State Police Major Robert Patnaude said during a press conference on Monday, according to NBC News.
"That company and that vehicle have been under scrutiny from the [Department of Transportation] in the past," Maj. Patnaude said.
Maj. Patnaude identified the company’s owner as Shahed Hussain, who is currently in Pakistan and has worked with the FBI as an informant in the past, NBC News reported.
Hussain’s son operates the company, the major said.
Cuomo said that the Excursion had been modified such a way that it violated federal law, the Star Tribune reported.
In September, the vehicle failed an inspection, which examined such things as the brakes, chassis, and suspension, he said.
"In my opinion, the owner of this company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," the governor told the Star Tribune. "Prestige has a lot of questions to answer."
Investigators are also conducting an autopsy and toxicology testing on the driver to determine whether alcohol or drugs were factors in the fatal collision.
While factory-built limousines are subject to stringent safety regulations, the same cannot be said for many luxury cars that have been converted into stretch-limousines, the Star Tribune reported.
Many lack safety components such as emergency exits, reinforced rollover protection structures, and side-impact airbags, the paper noted.
The regulations that govern modified limousines vary between states, and very few federal guidelines exist.
“It certainly is the Wild West out there when it comes to limousines and stretch vehicles," National Safety Council CEO Deborah Hersman told the Star Tribune.
Three years ago, after four women were killed in a stretch limousine crash on Long Island, a special grand jury pushed Duomo to form a task force to examine safety issues regarding such vehicles.
The grand jury’s report also urged lawmakers to create stricter regulations for limousines capable of carrying nine or more passengers – similar to the safety and inspection rules that apply to buses.
“I don’t know if there was a task force set up,” Cuomo told the Star Tribune on Monday. “Sometimes, people just don’t follow the law…and that may very well be what happened here.”
Newlyweds, four sisters, new parents, and young couples were among the passengers who died in Saturday’s collision, CNN reported.
On Monday, Prestige Limousine said it had voluntarily taken its three vehicles and two drivers off of the road pending an ongoing investigation.
The company said it “extends its deepest condolences to the family members and friends of those who tragically lost their lives on Saturday,” CNN reported.
“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 statement read.
According to Cuomo, the company is also being sent a cease and desist order until the completion of the investigation, NBC News reported.