Categories: Sara Foss
There are no heroes in the deadly 2018 Schoharie County limousine crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board autopsy of the accident, released last week, makes that painfully obvious.
The long-awaited report blasted the limousine company for “egregious” safety violations, while also outlining, in damning detail, the state’s utter failure to keep a dangerous vehicle off the road.
Let’s be clear: If not for Saratoga County-based Prestige Limousine’s complete disregard for human safety, this accident would not have happened.
It was Prestige that tempted fate by putting passengers in an aging stretch limo with bad brakes.
It was Prestige that lacked the “operating authority” to use commercial limousines in New York but did so anyway, even after its applications had been rejected as incomplete.
It was Prestige that twice removed the “out of service” stickers placed on the limo after it failed inspections and returned a defective, deficient vehicle to public streets.
Prestige deserves all the scorn we can heap upon it, but that doesn’t mean the state is exempt from criticism.
Far from it.
The NTSB investigation raises hard, troubling questions about whether the state is up to the task of protecting the public from bad actors seemingly hellbent on flouting rules and regulations intended to keep people safe.
NTSB board member Michael Graham didn’t mince words when discussing the state’s role in the accident, saying, “Each layer of protection designed to stop Prestige and stop this from happening failed.”
If there’s a lesson, it’s that you can have all the rules and regulations in the world, but if nobody enforces them, they’re as good as useless should someone decide it’s in their best interest to ignore them.
That’s one of the more unfortunate takeaways from the NTSB investigation – that the state had opportunities to get the Ford Explorer off the road, but did not take them.
Would the 20 people killed in the Schoharie County crash still be alive today if the state departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles had acted more aggressively?
It’s a haunting, if ultimately unanswerable, question.
And it speaks to the awful consequences of the state’s failure to crack down on a limousine company that had no business being in business.
In particular, the NTSB faulted the DMV for ineffective supervision of its inspection stations and knocked DOT for failing to confiscate the vehicle – something that was within the agency’s authority to do.
The NTSB’s findings are maddening.
So is a 2014 audit from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that found that the state Department of Transportation wasn’t doing an effective job of getting defective vehicles off the road when serious safety violations were found.
“Knowing this tragedy could have been prevented on numerous occasions, by those who are entrusted to protect us, makes this crash even more heartbreaking,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalts said.
Prestige Limousine operator Nauman Hussain has been indicted on second-degree manslaughter and criminally-negligent homicide in Schoharie County Court, and his callous alleged actions make him easy to villainize.
But it’s important to note that Hussain didn’t operate in a vacuum.
The state’s weak oversight allowed him to thumb his nose at regulators and do as he pleased, until a horrific tragedy brought everything crashing down.
Hussain must be held accountable.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.