A driver with an improper license. A limousine company with a trail of failed inspections and ties to a scheme to illegally obtain driver’s licenses. And a limousine that had also been deemed unsafe.
Two days after a devastating limousine crash in upstate New York that killed 20 people, officials revealed new details about their inquiry that suggested the trip never should have been allowed to happen.
The mounting questions about the accident increasingly centered on the limousine company, Prestige Limousine, which had a shoddy record, did business out of a low-budget hotel and whose owner may have a curious history with federal law enforcement. On Monday, officials moved to suspend the company’s operations and seize its vehicles.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters that the limousine involved in the accident had failed an inspection last month and “was not supposed to be on the road.”
The owner of the limousine company, Shahed Hussain, has the same name and address as that of a former informant for the F.B.I. who has testified in two prominent terrorism cases, according to public records. A law enforcement official suggested that his son may operate the limousine company, and a state law enforcement official confirmed that the police had interviewed one of Mr. Hussain’s sons.
Shortly before the crash, one of the victims inside the limousine sent a text suggesting that she was worried about the vehicle’s condition, using a profanity to describe the car. And investigators suggested that past problems with the company — its vehicles had failed several inspections, according to records and state officials — and its owners may have contributed to the accident.
The limousine company issued a statement on Monday expressing condolences to the relatives of those killed. “We are performing a detailed internal investigation to determine the cause of the accident,’’ the statement said, adding that the company had voluntarily taken its vehicles off the road. “We have already met with state and federal investigators, and plan to do so again.’’
The driver of the vehicle, who also died in the crash, has not been identified by authorities, but social media posts from family members said he was Scott Lisinicchia, who was 53. Mr. Cuomo said that the driver “did not have the appropriate driver’s license to be operating that vehicle.”
Federal officials said that the crash in Schoharie, N.Y., a small town about 40 miles west of Albany, was the worst transportation-related accident in the country since a 2009 plane crash outside Buffalo killed 50 people.
On Monday, investigators continued to search for clues as to what caused the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine to speed down a rural highway, through a stop sign and into an unoccupied car, killing 17 friends in the vehicle who were on their way to celebrate a birthday party. An assistant professor of geology at the State University of New York, Brian Hough, and his father-in-law were struck and killed as they stood near a parking lot at the base of the hill, according to Syracuse.com and Facebook posts.
In a briefing at a regional headquarters of the State Police outside Albany, Robert L. Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that his agency’s inquiry was focusing on mechanical and human causes for the accident and that there was extensive damage to the front and left side of the limousine.
He suggested that the engine of the Excursion had been thrust backward into the driver’s compartment, saying the evidence indicated a “high-energy impact.” But he declined to say definitively that the vehicle had been speeding; there were no skid marks leading to the crash site.
Investigators also said they had recovered an airbag control module, which was being analyzed for crash data.
State Police officials suggested that the company had been on their radar before the crash. “That company and that vehicle have been under scrutiny” in the past, said Maj. Robert Patnaude of the New York State Police. He also suggested that Mr. Hussain could face criminal charges. “That will be part of our investigation,” Major Patnaude said.
The investigation will also include autopsies of the victims, a tight-knit group that included four sisters, two brothers and several young couples. Those victims had yet to be identified by the authorities but heartbroken friends and relatives were already posting testimonials.
“I lost my two best friends in this,” wrote Justin Cushing, whose brother Patrick, friend Adam Jackson and his cousin, Erin McGowan, all died in the limousine. “I’m shaking.”
Katie Kent, who identified herself as Professor Hough’s aunt in posts on Facebook, called the SUNY geologist “an accomplished professor, an amazing husband, and daddy.”
There were also unsettling signs that the victims may have been concerned by the condition of the limousine. One friend of Ms. McGowan said that she had received a text telling her that a party bus that was supposed to take the group of friends to the Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown had broken down on the way to pick them up.
Instead, the group obtained a stretch limousine, which was in shoddy condition, Ms. McGowan told her friend, Melissa Healey.
Ms. Healey, 33, who had been the maid of honor at Ms. McGowan’s wedding this past summer, shared the texts with The New York Times.
“The motor is making everyone deaf,” wrote Ms. McGowan, before Ms. Healey asked where they had rented the car.
Ms. McGowan responded that she wasn’t sure, but then added, “When we get to brewery we will all b deaf.”
They never made it.
The limousine company is based at the Crest Inn Suites & Cottages in Gansevoort, N.Y., a small town north of Albany, and on Monday, state troopers were at the hotel. The State Police said they had seized three vehicles from the company and believed that Mr. Hussain was outside the United States.
Arnie Cornett, the manager at the hotel, identified the owner as “Malik” and said he lived in Dubai. Mr. Hussain, the informant, went by Malik when he helped the F.B.I. infiltrate a mosque in Albany.
Lincoln Prosser, who lives at the hotel with her husband and three children, said she had not seen any limousines parked outside. But when she lived there between 2013 and 2015, she said, she noticed a few limousines parked there, some of which appeared to be broken down.
Mr. Hussain, the man whose name seems to be associated with the limousine company, posed as a wealthy Muslim radical and was the central prosecution witness in a 2004 federal sting focusing on a pizzeria owner and an imam at an Albany mosque. Six years later, Mr. Hussain, who posed as a terrorist, played a key role in the government’s case in a plot to blow up two synagogues in the Bronx.
He became an F.B.I. informant after being charged in 2002 with a scheme that involved taking money to illegally help people in the Albany area get driver’s licenses.
The intersection where the accident occurred was known among residents as being notoriously dangerous: a tricky T-shape, where east-west traffic often sped by in excess of the posted 50 m.p.h. speed limit.
“This has long been a source of discord in Schoharie,” said Rosemary Christoff Dolan, who had visited the accident site on Sunday.
Three years ago, state transportation officials banned trucks from the route after a tractor-trailer barreled through the same intersection. That was one of four accidents reported there since the Department of Transportation made changes to the intersection in 2008 to improve safety.
The police said that the limousine had been traveling downhill toward the intersection when it failed to stop, crossing the busy highway, glancing off the second vehicle in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel, a local shop, and striking the two pedestrians nearby. The limousine then crashed into a shallow ravine.
Questions about the safety and regulation of such oversized vehicles have also been raised. According to the State Police, limousine drivers are required to wear a seatbelt but passengers who are often riding in open spaces in the back are not. A lack of any restraint can cause serious injuries in a crash — only one person inside the limousine on Saturday survived the initial impact before being pronounced dead at a hospital in Albany.
On Monday, Mr. Cuomo seemed to question whether more legislative oversight of the industry was the answer. “I don’t know that this a situation where you can find a new law or a new regulation,” he said.
Similar oversized vehicles have been involved in fatal accidents in New York before: In 2015, a limousine carrying a bridal party of eight women was hit by a pickup truck on Long Island, in Cutchogue, N.Y., killing four people.
As the investigation into the crash continues, families of the victims continue to grapple with the fallout from the crash.
“They were all friends,” said Valerie Abeling, Ms. McGowan’s aunt. “Most of them were lifelong friends. Relatives, cousins, family.”
Ms. Healey, Ms. McGowan’s friend, said she was supposed to have gone on the trip, but could not make it. She had a cold.
9-year-old genius to graduate university
(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.
New award to honor arts and activism named after Lena Horne
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.
🚨WANTED for ASSAULT: on 11/6 at approx 3:43 PM in front of 128 West 112th St in Manhattan, a 32 yr old male was walking with his 8 yr old son when a white BMW jumped the curb & hit the father & son. The driver then got out and slashed the father. Call @NYPDTips with any info. pic.twitter.com/cwd79rcM4c
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) November 15, 2019
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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