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Deadly N.Y. crash spotlights safety loopholes for limousines



white limousine

A limousine crash over the weekend that killed 20 people has focused attention on rules governing the ungainly vehicles, which can be as long as 30 feet and are exempt from the crash standards that apply to new cars and trucks.

The white, stretch Ford Excursion limo lost control Saturday and barreled through a stop sign and slammed into an unoccupied SUV in Schoharie, New York, about 40 miles west of Albany. Among the dead were four sisters, two brothers and at least three young couples.

The driver wasn’t properly licensed and the limo had failed a state safety inspection last month and shouldn’t have been on the road, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, according to Associated Press. The state ordered the company, Prestige Limousine, shut down.

The National Transportation Safety Board will examine federal oversight of the limousine industry as part of its investigation into the crash, which is the deadliest U.S. transportation accident since 2009, Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

“I think the fact that we have 20 fatalities in a single vehicle crash—18 plus two pedestrians—that in itself is enough to certainly get the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board,” Sumwalt said Monday in an interview.

Stretch limousines are often converted cars or SUVs. Lengthening the vehicles and adding new seating configurations can undercut the federally mandated safety features designed by the original manufacturer, according to crash-worthiness experts.

“Once you start modifying the vehicle, you pretty much undo all of that,” said Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s vehicle research center in Virginia. “When a vehicle is stretched, the main thing that’s taken into account is to make sure that it is structurally stable and roadworthy in order to carry the occupants and handle the load and be durable, not necessarily to withstand any crash forces.”

‘Frankenstein’ vehicles

The addition of several thousand pounds of additional frame and sheet metal from the longer body and the added weight of carrying more than a dozen passengers also puts far greater strain on a stretch limo’s brakes and tires than they were originally designed for, he said.

“There’s a bit of a Frankenstein approach, where a vehicle is chopped up and put back together with parts that were not originally designed for that vehicle,” said Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council advocacy group and a former NTSB chair. “It’s clear that they don’t have the same safety design standards as those same vehicles had before they’re stretched or modified.”

The fatal crash highlights a number of shortcomings in such vehicles, including crash worthiness, seat belt use and the patchwork of state and federal regulations that provide inadequate oversight, Hersman said.

“This is an area where we clearly have a gap that needs to be addressed and it’s incumbent upon state policy makers and the feds to work together and address this,” she said.

Seat belts
The crash occurred at the Apple Barrel Country Store off a T-junction where two highways meet. A manager of the store said the limo was coming down the hill at “probably” 60 miles per hour, the New York Times reported.

One of the issues the NTSB agency will be looking at is the lack of a requirement in New York state that limo passengers wear seat belts, Sumwalt said. Investigators still hadn’t determined whether passengers were restrained as of Monday morning, he said.

Three years ago, after four women died and two others were seriously injured in a limo accident on Long Island, New York, Senator Chuck Schumer called for an investigation into federal safety standards.

“It’s clear that stretching a limo can put the wheels in motion for a terrible tragedy,” Schumer, a Democrat, said in a press release at the time. “All too often, stretched limousines lack basic safety protections, including not enough side impact air bags, rollover bars, appropriate exits and more.”

A similar safety issue arose in the 2014 crash that injured comic Tracy Morgan and killed his friend, comedian James McNair: the luxury limo van had been modified to block exit doors, which made it difficult to reach the victims.

Morgan was returning from a show on June 7, 2014, when a truck struck the limo from behind. It took emergency workers more than 30 minutes to remove the injured passengers, according to the NTSB.

There was only one side door in that limo’s passenger compartment, the NTSB found, and there were no regulations to prevent such modifications. The NTSB in 2015 called on the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to adopt new regulations requiring at least two exits on such limos.

NHTSA is still evaluating the recommendation, according to correspondence on the issue on NTSB’s website.


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9-year-old genius to graduate university




Laurent Simons

(CNN) – A child prodigy from Belgium is on course to gain a bachelor’s degree at the tender age of 9.

Laurent Simons is studying electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) — a tough course even for students of an average graduate age.

Described by staff as “simply extraordinary,” Laurent is on course to finish his degree in December.

He then plans to embark on a PhD program in electrical engineering while also studying for a medicine degree, his father told CNN.

His parents, Lydia and Alexander Simons, said they thought Laurent’s grandparents were exaggerating when they said he had a gift, but his teachers soon concurred.

“They noticed something very special about Laurent,” said Lydia.

Laurent was given test after test as teachers tried to work out the extent of his talents. “They told us he is like a sponge,” said Alexander.

While Laurent comes from a family of doctors, his parents have so far not received any explanation as to why their child prodigy is capable of learning so quickly.

But Lydia has her own theory.

“I ate a lot of fish during the pregnancy,” she joked.

The TUE has allowed Laurent to complete his course faster than other students.

“That is not unusual,” said Sjoerd Hulshof, education director of the TUE bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, in a statement.

“Special students that have good reasons for doing so can arrange an adjusted schedule. In much the same way we help students who participate in top sport.”

Hulshof said Laurent is “simply extraordinary” and praised the youngster.

“Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,” he said. “Not only is he hyper intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.”

Laurent told CNN his favorite subject is electrical engineering and he’s also “going to study a bit of medicine.”

His progress has not gone unnoticed and he is already being sought out by prestigious universities around the world, although Laurent’s family wouldn’t be drawn on naming which of them he is considering for his PhD.

“The absorption of information is no problem for Laurent,” said his father.

“I think the focus will be on research and applying the knowledge to discover new things.”

While Laurent is evidently able to learn faster than most, his parents are being careful to let him enjoy himself too.

“We don’t want him to get too serious. He does whatever he likes,” said Alexander. “We need to find a balance between being a child and his talents.”

Laurent said he enjoys playing with his dog Sammy and playing on his phone, like many young people.

However, unlike most 9-year-olds, he has already worked out what he wants to do with his life: develop artificial organs.

In the meantime, Laurent has to finish his bachelor’s degree and choose which academic institution will play host to the next stage in his remarkable journey.

Before that, he plans on taking a vacation to Japan for an undoubtedly well-deserved break.

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New award to honor arts and activism named after Lena Horne




Lena Horne

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Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem




Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem

Two gangbangers aimed their BMW like a missile at a father and his 8-year-old son on a Harlem sidewalk in a horrifying incident captured by video distributed by police Thursday.

The BMW — driven by a man police believe is a member of the Gorilla Stone Bloods Gang — was zeroed in on the father, a rival gang member, said cops.

Around 3:45 p.m. Nov. 6, the boy and his father were walking on W. 112th St. by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. when the BMW jumped the sidewalk and slammed into them both, said cops.

Father and son were both knocked through a gate.

The BMW driver then backed up — and its driver and passenger, also believed to be a gang member, jumped out of the car and ran toward the father and the son.

One of the attackers slashed the father, identified by sources as 32-year-old Brian McIntosh, who’s served prison time for robbery and bail jumping.

McIntosh and his son went to Harlem Hospital. Miraculously, the boy escaped serious harm.

McIntosh was so adamant about refusing to help police catch his attackers that the young boy’s mother had to file a police report alleging he was the victim of a crime, police sources said.

Cops released video of the attack, and ask anyone with information about the suspects to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.


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