The driver in the deadly limo crash was a ‘reliable employee,’ company says

The limo driver in the deadly crash in upstate New York was a “great driver” and longtime employee of Prestige Limousine, the company’s attorney said Tuesday.

Authorities say the driver did not have the proper license and that the vehicle had failed a recent inspection. But lawyer Lee Kindlon said the Prestige owner thought the driver had a proper license.

The company checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles “a number of different times and they had been told that he did,” Kindlon said.

Authorities identified the driver as Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George, New York.

Kindlon called him a “very reliable employee and a great driver.”

Lisinicchia was among the 20 people who died in the wreck Saturday in Schoharie, New York, about 25 miles south of Amsterdam. Authorities have released the names of the 17 passengers, who rented the limo for a birthday party, and two pedestrians killed in the crash, along with the driver’s identity.

For reasons still unknown, the limo plowed through a stop sign and crashed into a parked SUV, causing the deadliest US transportation accident in almost a decade. Federal, state and local investigators flooded Schoharie to try to understand what happened.

Prestige is looking into the Lisinicchia’s history as part of an internal investigation, Kindlon said. The company is collecting maintenance records, driver logs and ownership records and intends to turn them over to authorities, he added.

Texts expressed concern before crash

Thousands gathered Monday night for a candlelight vigil in Amsterdam, a city of 17,000 that was home to many of those killed. Beneath a 12-foot bronze statue of a mother and child near a pedestrian bridge, they prayed for strength and observed a moment of silence before a singer led the group in “Amazing Grace.”

Lawmakers at the vigil promised to help find answers to the questions surrounding Saturday’s crash. “I’ve always known it be a loving community,” US Rep. Paul Tonko said. “As I gather with you this evening, I see it manifested in a very powerful expression.”

Monday’s vigil began hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the modified limo involved in the fatal crash wasn’t supposed to be on the road and that the driver “did not have the appropriate driver’s license to be operating that vehicle.”

“We don’t know the cause of the accident, if it was a vehicle malfunction, if it was a driver malfunction (or) a driver error,” Cuomo said.

At least one victim seemed worried about the condition of the limo, according to text messages shared with The New York Times.

The recently married Erin Vertucci McGowan sent a text message to her friend and maid of honor saying that their party bus had broken down on the way to celebrate a friend’s birthday. They had rented a stretch limo to pick them up, the newspaper reported. She did not know where they had procured the vehicle, she texted.

“The motor is making everyone deaf,” McGowan said in one text, according to the Times.

In another, she wrote, “When we get to brewery we will all b deaf.”

Victims identified

Before the disaster, the 17 birthday party guests in the limo — including newlyweds, young couples and four sisters –were headed to an upstate New York brewery. Authorities released their names Tuesday:

Axel J. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam, NY

Richard M. Steenburg, 34, Johnstown, NY

Amy L. Steenburg, 29, Amsterdam, NY

Allison King, 31, Ballston Spa, NY

Mary E. Dyson, 33, Watertown, NY

Robert J. Dyson, 34, Watertown, NY

Abigail M. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam, NY

Matthew W. Coons, 27, Johnstown, NY

Savannah D. Bursese, 24, Johnstown, NY

Patrick K. Cushing, 31, Troy, NY

Amanda D. Halse, 26, Fort Ann, NY

Erin R. McGowan, 34, Amsterdam, NY

Shane T. McGowan, 30, Amsterdam, NY

Amanda Rivenburg, 29, Colonie, NY

Adam G. Jackson, 34, Amsterdam, NY

The pedestrians were identified as Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, of Waterford and Michael C. Ukaj, 34 of Johnstown.

Failed inspection

The birthday party guests were riding in a 2001 Ford Excursion that was converted into a limousine. After-market modifications can affect a vehicle’s structural integrity and safety, said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

As more details emerge about the apparent broken rules, investigators also are looking into whether the unusual structure of the limo may have contributed to this mass tragedy.

The company bought the Excursion already modified “just a couple of years ago,” its lawyer said.

US Department of Transportation records shows that the limo company, Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service of Gansevoort, New York, has two drivers and three vehicles. Its vehicles were inspected five times in the last two years, and the company has had four vehicles taken out of service.

Company’s vehicles off the road

The limo company said in a statement Monday that it was conducting “a detailed internal investigation to determine the cause of the accident and the steps we can take in order to prevent future accidents.”

The company has met with federal and state investigators and plans to do so again, the statement said. It has taken its fleet off the road, it said

Cuomo said officials are working on a cease-and-desist order to keep Prestige Limousine’s automobiles from operating until the investigation is over.

The company’s owner, Shahed Hussain, is currently in Pakistan, State Police Maj. Robert Patnaude said. State police seized three of the company’s vehicles in addition to the modified limo involved in the crash, Patnaude said.

Prestige’s lawyer said that Hussain travels back and forth to Pakistan frequently, but currently has health issues. Kindlon said Hussain “wanted everybody to know that if, in fact, he’s needed here, he is ready and able to come back whenever they need him.”

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators are working to learn the vehicle’s speed at the time of the crash, more about the driver’s state, whether all 19 seats in the limo had lap-shoulder belts and whether the passengers were wearing them, which is not required by law.