ALBANY — The operator of a limousine company at the center of an investigation of the crash in upstate New York that killed 20 people was arrested Wednesday and charged with criminally negligent homicide, according to the State Police.
Nauman Hussain, the son of Shahed Hussain, the owner of Prestige Limousine, was taken into custody by the State Police during a traffic stop on a highway in the Albany area.
The arrest came four days after a stretch limousine, rented out by Prestige, ran through a stop sign in Schoharie, New York, a town about 40 miles west of Albany, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow ravine. All 17 passengers and the limousine’s driver were killed, as were two pedestrians.
The arrest is the latest development in a fast-moving investigation focusing on the limousine — a 2001 Ford Excursion — that had repeatedly failed inspections, including one as recently as last month.
The company, which was doing business out of a low-budget hotel north of Albany, has been visited multiple times by State Police investigators, who are also seeking the elder Hussain, a former FBI informant.
The crash on Saturday was the worst transportation-related accident in the country in nine years, dating to a 2009 plane crash outside Buffalo that killed 50 people.
Among the victims Saturday were 17 young friends — all between 24 and 34 — who had been traveling in the limousine for a birthday party trip at a local brewery.
In remarks to reporters outside a State Police barracks on Wednesday afternoon, a lawyer for the company, Lee Kindlon, said that the State Police and other authorities were “jumping the gun” in arresting and charging Nauman Hussain. “Even the most simple investigation, done well, takes months,” Kindlon, said adding that his client would plead not guilty to the charges. “And now because of the actions taken today, that time frame is compressed.”
The crash has also raised questions about the regulation and oversight of stretch limousines, specially made vehicles that are built from former cars or sport utility vehicles and often do not have to meet strict federal safety requirements.
Federal safety officials investigating the Schoharie crash have described the accident as a “high-energy impact,” which drove the limousine’s engine into the driver’s side. State officials have said that the 2001 Ford Excursion was not supposed to be on the road, having failed inspections, including tests of its brakes.
The charges against Hussain were announced by State Police Maj. Robert E. Patnaude, the commander of Troop G, which is based in Latham, New York, and is investigating the crash.
State Police have made clear that they would like to interview the elder Hussain, 62.
He has a curious history, having worked as an informant, helping to convict two leaders of an Albany mosque in a 2004 plot to import a missile and assassinate a Pakistani diplomat, as well as a case in 2009 involving a conspiracy to bomb synagogues in the Bronx. In both cases, the attacks were thwarted.
But his record is also filled with criminal acts, including fraudulently obtaining driver’s licenses, and financial troubles — he filed for bankruptcy in 2003 after accumulating debts of $177,000. That bankruptcy case was finally settled in 2007.
A year later his family started Prestige Limousine.
On Wednesday, Kindlon said Hussain had been in Pakistan for some time to deal with health issues. He said that the older Hussain had been much more involved in the day-to-day running of the company than his son, who he said mainly helped market the company and answer business calls.
He added that Nauman Hussain’s father was “worried sick about his own son,” and may return to the United States to assist in the investigation.
“I know that should we need him,” Kindlon said, “he will come here.”