By MAYSOON KHAN
Associated Press/Report for America
SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (AP) — A former limousine company manager was sentenced Wednesday to at least five years in prison for his role in a crash that killed 20 people in rural New York.
Nauman Hussain, 33, was convicted of manslaughter earlier this month after prosecutors argued that he intentionally failed to properly maintain an SUV-style stretch limo, which then failed to brake on a downhill stretch of road in Schoharie, a village west of Albany.
The 2001 Ford Excursion was packed with friends out for a birthday celebration on Oct. 6, 2018 when it hit a parked car and trees before coming to rest in a streambed.
Judge Peter Lynch sentenced Hussain to an indeterminate term of 5 to 15 years in prison. The state’s parole board will determine when Hussain will be released after he serves the minimum.
Some people who lost loved ones in the crash spoke directly to Hussain in court before the judge announced the sentence.
“October 6, 2018 is the date forever burned into my heart and soul,” said a tearful Bethany King, who lost four members of her family in the crash. “You have received a justified guilty verdict,” King said to Hussain, who was looking down, “while the rest of us here have received a life sentence.”
The limo’s driver, all 17 passengers and two bystanders were killed in the crash, one of the deadliest U.S. road wrecks of the past two decades.
Prosecutors presented evidence at the trial that the limo had been allowed to deteriorate, and that Hussain’s rental company had taken steps to keep it on the road, despite a failed inspection that should have taken it out of service.
Special prosecutor Frederick Rench told reporters outside the Schoharie County Courthouse that the sentence was what he expected.
“Mr Hussain was required by law to comply with certain regulations. He failed to do so although he knew of the regulations and that they applied to him,” Rench said. “He failed to abide by them, he failed to follow them and this crash occurred as a result of that.”
National Transportation Safety Board investigators previously concluded that the rental company also avoided inspection rules for oversized vehicles by filing false information about the SUV’s seating capacity.
“It makes me and my family sick to know that a $2,000 dollar brake repair would have avoided this catastrophe,” said Kevin Cushing, who lost his son Patrick Cushing in the crash. “Nauman, you’re a sorry excuse for a human being.”
The trial came after a judge rejected a plea deal last fall that would have spared Hussain prison time.
“We were angry and we felt we didn’t have a say,” Cushing said of the original plea deal. He said the judge gave families a voice and an opportunity, and that he was “very pleased” with the outcome.
Hussain did not speak during the sentencing.
Hussain’s lawyer, Lee Kindlon, said he plans to file an appeal.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.