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Brake failure, ‘egregious disregard for safety’ caused NY limo crash that killed 20 people, NTSB says
ALBANY, N.Y. – A disastrous stretch limousine crash that killed 20 people was likely caused by an owner who showed an “egregious disregard for safety” by putting the vehicle on the road despite failing a state inspection that cited issues with the brake system, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The federal board met virtually Tuesday to finalize its report on the probable cause of the fatal Oct. 6, 2018 crash in Schoharie, New York, which killed the driver, all 17 passengers and two bystanders when the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine blew through a stop sign and struck a parked SUV in the Apple Barrel Country Store’s parking lot.
The limousine, which was owned by Prestige Limousine of Saratoga County, appeared to suffer brake failure and reached speeds of 100 mph as it descended a steep hill toward the “T” intersection of Routes 30 and 30A where the crash occurred, the NTSB found.
NTSB members and investigators were highly critical of Prestige, noting the vehicle was ordered out of service by the New York Department of Transportation prior to the crash because of issues with the brake system.
Oct. 2019: NTSB issues new safety recommendations for limo seating, seat belts
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But the NTSB saved criticism for a pair of inspection shops — a Mavis Discount Tire outpost and Wilton Tire Center — that previously inspected the stretch limousine without proper authority to do so, as well as the state of New York for failing to seize the vehicle’s license plates prior to the crash.
The board also expressed anger with Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery and the New York State Police, accusing them of impeding federal investigators’ access to the limousine and other evidence in the months following the crash.
“Prestige Limousine, Mavis Discount Tire and the state of New York failed to adequately protect 20 innocent lives,” NTSB member Michael Graham said during the meeting.
The board voted to approve the final report around 2 p.m. Tuesday. It is expected to be released publicly later in the day.
Crash killed family, friends celebrating birthday
The fatal crash happened the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2018, after a group of friends and family members — including four sisters and three of their husbands — secured the stretch limo from Prestige the morning of the crash after a reservation with a different company fell through.
The group boarded the limousine in the city of Amsterdam, about 35 miles west of Albany, and headed toward Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown to celebrate the 30th birthday of Amy Steenburg, one of the sisters.
Prestige’s operator, Nauman Hussain, 30, is facing 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter, though his attorneys have engaged in plea-bargain negotiations with the Schoharie County district attorney.
The NTSB’s report found the probable cause of the crash was the failure of the brake system, caused by Prestige’s neglect of the vehicle and failure to keep it off the road despite being ordered out of service by the state.
The report found the state DOT’s “ineffective oversight” of the limousine industry and failure to adequately track vehicle repairs also contributed to the disaster.
It also cited the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ inability to properly oversee the state inspection system, which allowed the limousine to be inspected less frequently and less rigorously for a period of time because it was improperly registered.
NTSB’s report made 22 findings, including:
The limo had a brake system that was corroded and inadequately maintained. It had never been upgraded when the vehicle was altered, or “stretched,” from a basic SUV to a limousine.
The limo would have been able to safely stop prior to reaching the intersection where the crash occurred if the brakes had been functioning properly.
The limo driver, Scott Lisinicchia, failed to disclose medical ailments and prescriptions while undergoing a medical exam for a commercial driver’s license. He also failed to disclose his “habitual” marijuana use, which would have prevented him from getting the license.
NTSB directs ire toward Prestige, state
The federal investigators accused Prestige of showing a blatant disregard for the safety of its passengers.
Prosecutors have accused Hussain of knowingly putting the limo back on the road after the DOT placed an out-of-service sticker on the vehicle earlier in 2018 that was meant to keep it off the road, in part because the brake system was not up to par.
Prestige also did not obtain a state operating authority certificate prior to putting the limo on the road as required.
Following the crash, the state DOT suggested it did not have authority under state law to seize the limo’s license plates despite knowing it didn’t have operating authority and failed the inspection.
At the meeting Tuesday, NTSB investigators said they disagreed. In their opinion, the DOT did have that authority, even before lawmakers clarified the law in 2019.
The DMV, meanwhile, did not immediately catch that Prestige had failed to properly register the limousine as a bus, which would have triggered the more-frequent, more-expansive inspection process by the DOT sooner.
Instead, Prestige had been able for a period of time to get the limo inspected at Mavis Discount Tire and Wilton Tire Center, neither of which have authority to inspect stretch limos.
“They (the state agencies) were supposed to be enforcing this and instead they sat on bureaucratic red tape,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt pointed out the DOT had raised issues with Prestige more than a dozen times over the years and placed it out of service.
If the DOT didn’t believe it had authority to revoke the limo’s plates, Sumwalt said he had a hard time blaming the agency.
“I think we’re taking an unfair swipe at the New York DOT,” he said before ultimately agreeing to the findings.
DMV spokeswoman Lisa Koumjian and DOT spokesman Joe Morrissey issued a joint statement Tuesday saying the agencies did as much as they could given the law. After the crash, the law was expanded to more clearly give DOT authority to revoke plates.
“We exercised the full authority granted to us under the law and ordered that vehicle off the road multiple times, but as NTSB’s own reports on this crash reaffirm, Prestige repeatedly violated New York State law and was never authorized at any time to operate for-hire commercial passenger vehicle service in the State,” according to the joint statement.
Criminal investigation delayed NTSB
The NTSB is a federal board tasked with investigating major traffic and transportation incidents that result in significant fatalities. The board has congressional authority to investigate crashes and recommend legal changes that could help prevent future disasters.
The board repeatedly clashed with the Schoharie district attorney and New York State Police, who did not immediately provide access to the limousine in the months following the crash as they continued with their criminal investigation of Hussain.
Sumwalt opened the virtual meeting Tuesday with a lengthy criticism of the prosecutor and State Police, suggesting the access clash helped delay the federal report for about a year.
The delay had a significant effect on the NTSB investigation: In part because it didn’t have full access to the limo’s brake system, the NTSB couldn’t say exactly why the brake system appeared to have failed.
“Unfortunately, the parallel criminal investigation conducted by the Schoharie County District Attorney’s Office and the NYSP significantly impeded and curtailed our typical investigatory efforts,” Sumwalt said.
Mallery, the Schoharie County district attorney, said she could not respond to the NTSB’s criticism until Hussain’s criminal case concludes but noted district attorneys and the federal board “have different obligations and responsibilities which we both must adhere to.”
Beau Duffy, a spokesman for State Police, noted the NTSB was allowed to view State Police’s inspections of the limo prior to gaining access for their own investigation.
“Since the day of the crash, the NTSB has been fully aware that the criminal case is the priority, and the vehicle had to be fully processed by the State Police and the defense before they could conduct a hands-on examination,” Duffy said in a statement.
Victims’ families pushed for change
The NTSB’s findings regarding the limousine’s brakes are in line with a state-hired expert, who found the vehicle suffered “catastrophic brake failure” as it traveled down the steep hill.
The board also took issue with Lisinicchia, the driver, who did not disclose his medical conditions that required prescriptions when he applied from a commercial driver’s license. He also checked a box denying he uses illicit drugs, though a toxicology report found marijuana in his system at the time of his death.
Since the crash, the victims’ families have joined together to push for reforms to he limousine industry and New York traffic law.
After lawmakers did little to enact reform in 2019, the families broke through in 2020, convincing the state Legislature to enact a series of new measures, including a law requiring all limousines to have a seatbelt for each rear passenger.
New limos will be required to meet the seatbelt requirement on or after Jan. 1, 2021, while existing limos will have to be retrofitted by 2023, according to the new law.
The families of the victims have filed various civil lawsuits against Hussain; his father, Shahed, who owns the company; the Mavis Discount Tire shop that inspected the limousine and performed brake work; and the state of New York.
Follow Jon Campbell on Twitter: @JonCampbellGAN.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: NTSB: Brake failure, ‘egregious disregard’ caused deadly NY limo crash
Barry Jenkins will direct ‘The Lion King’ sequel for Walt Disney
As the second-highest grossing movie of 2019, it was only a matter of time until The Lion King roared again. And now, Walt Disney has announced that a new Hollywood king will be continuing the story started by Jon Favreau in the photorealistic remake of the 1994 cartoon favorite. Moonlight auteur, Barry Jenkins, is set to direct the second installment, and the director confirmed his involvement on Twitter.
Of course, the original cartoon Lion King also had its various sequels and spinoffs — including the direct-to-video continuation, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and an animated series based around Simba’s pals, Timon and Pumbaa. But Deadline is reporting that Jenkins’s film will be a wholly original story, unlike the Favreau feature, which hewed closely (perhaps too closely) to its predecessor. The website suggests that Jenkins is planning a follow-up that’s closer in spirit to The Godfather Part II, incorporating flashback material that illustrates how Simba’s beloved father, Mufasa, came to power. “The story will further explore the mythology of the characters, including Mufasa’s origin story,” Deadline states.
Jenkins didn’t tease any additional plot details on Twitter, but the congratulations quickly came rolling in, even as some wondered whether he should have been aiming higher.
Holy cow, man. I’m excited for my kids to fall in love with this. Congratulations!
— tom_quinn (@tom_quinn) September 29, 2020
Congratulations! This is incredibly well deserved, and I’m so excited to see what you make!
— Josiahx (@Josiahx) September 29, 2020
Barry Jenkins directing Lion King 2 is much more disheartening and even more embarrassing than Ben Wheatley directing Tomb Raider 2. “But wait – maybe he’ll make a great Lion King 2!” No he won’t.
— Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) September 29, 2020
no disrespect to selling out, but i simply cannot fathom choosing a *CGI lion king sequel* as your money project. barry jenkins could do anything! anything!
— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) September 29, 2020
To that last point, those concerned about a Lion King sequel eating up all of Jenkins’s creative time should maybe adopt Timon and Pumbaa’s problem-free philosophy. The Oscar-nominated director still has a little bit of anything and everything on his plate, starting with a planned biopic of celebrated Black choreographer Alvin Ailey for Searchlight, which is owned by Disney. He also recently completed production on an Amazon series based on the Pulitzer-prize winning history The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and Steven Soderbergh recently announced that Jenkins will be overseeing a revival of The Knick, re-teaming him with his Moonlight collaborator André Holland. With all those projects in the works, you might say he’s no passing craze.
The Lion King is currently streaming on Disney+.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Fire in California Wine Country Forces Evacuation of Entire Town
(Bloomberg) — A wildfire that jumped across California’s famed Napa Valley forced the evacuation of an entire wine country resort town and threatened thousands of homes in a region devastated by blazes just three years ago.
The Glass Fire north of San Francisco reached more than 42,500 acres as of Tuesday morning, nearly quadrupling in size over 24 hours, and is 0% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. A second fire that erupted in Shasta County has killed at least three people.
The blazes broke out after a weekend of hot weather with dry winds in Northern California, which has already been buffeted by a record wildfire season. The gusts have now faded in that region but are gaining strength in the southern part of the state. Officials on Monday and Tuesday began deploying firefighters and equipment to Southern California in hopes of quickly stopping any new fires there.
Utility giant PG&E Corp., which cut service to about 195,000 people in an attempt to keep its equipment from sparking blazes, said late Monday that it has largely restored power to those customers. But about 37,000 households and businesses are now without electricity because of the latest round of fires.
In Napa wine country, the entire town of Calistoga was told to leave late Monday night, with more evacuation orders Tuesday in the area of Angwin. At least 68,000 people are under evacuation orders in Sonoma County, according to the sheriff’s office. Governor Gavin Newsom urged people to listen to warnings and leave immediately when asked.
“So many of the people that have lost their lives were just cautious in terms of taking seriously those orders,” Newsom said in a media briefing Monday. “We really, really cannot say it enough. Please heed local law enforcement. Please listen to them when they raise that alarm bell.”
California has been battered for weeks by rounds of extreme weather that state officials say have been fueled by climate change. Last month, a record-breaking heat wave triggered the state’s first rotating power outages since the 2001 energy crisis — and was followed just three weeks later by another one. More than 8,000 wildfires have burned a record 3.7 million acres this year, choking cities with smoke, killing at least 29 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.
On Tuesday, more than 18,700 firefighters were battling 27 major blazes across the state. The 25 counties that have suffered fires this year account for nearly three-quarters of California’s population and over two-thirds of state employment, according to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
Shares of PG&E — which went bankrupt last year after its equipment ignited catastrophic fires — were little changed Tuesday after tumbling the most in three months on Monday. The company said in a statement that it has no information indicating that its equipment was involved in the start of either the Glass Fire or the Zogg Fire in Shasta County.
The causes of the blazes remain under investigation.
The Glass Fire broke out early Sunday in the hills east of Napa Valley, and embers flew across the valley floor, carrying the fire to the hills on the western side. The fire is now raging northeast of Santa Rosa, the area devastated by the 2017 Tubbs Fire, among the most destructive in California history. Properties damaged in the famed vineyard region included the Chateau Boswell estate, the Meadowood resort and the Castello di Amorosa winery.
At least 80 residences were destroyed in Napa and Sonoma counties, while more than 10,700 structures are under threat, according to Cal Fire.
About 180 miles north, the Zogg Fire burned at least 40,300 acres, prompting more evacuations.
California’s peak wildfire season traditionally runs from September through November. It has grown longer and less predictable in recent years, with blazes coming as late as December.
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
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