A plea agreement that guaranteed “no prison time” for the operator of a New York limousine company involved in a crash that killed 20 people in 2018 was denied by a judge on August 31, putting Nauman Hussain into legal uncertainty. State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch, who was not presiding over the case when the deal was reached last year, called it “fundamentally flawed” and “completely disingenuous and unacceptable to this court.”

Hussain, who operated Prestige Limousine, was charged with 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter in what was the deadliest U.S. transportation disaster in a decade. The agreement had called for Hussain to plead guilty only to the homicide counts, resulting in five years’ probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Lawyers for both sides said last year the plea agreement assured a resolution in a case that could have faced an uncertain outcome if presented to a jury.

Lynch pointed out that a Department of Transportation out-of-service sticker had placed been on the 2001 Ford Excursion limo a month before the crash. State police recovered the sticker from Hussain’s personal car after his arrest. Prosecutors argued he took the sticker off the limo’s windshield so he could use it for more jobs. The judge said Hussain’s actions showed he knew the risk of putting the vehicle on the road the day of the crash, adding that a guilty plea to only criminally negligent homicide does not reflect that fact. Second-degree manslaughter charges are filed when a defendant is accused of being aware of the risk of death and disregarding it.

Hussain’s lawyers were given a choice to accept a sentence of one-year-and-four-months to four years in prison or withdraw the guilty plea. They chose the latter.

While the National Transportation Safety Board concluded the crash was likely caused by Prestige Limousine’s “egregious disregard for safety” that resulted in brake failure, the board said ineffective state oversight also contributed. Attorneys for Hussain say he tried to maintain the limousine and relied on what he was told by state officials and a repair shop that inspected it.

Axel Steenburg rented the limousine for his wife Amy’s 30th birthday on Oct. 6, 2018. The party group included Axel’s brother, Amy’s three sisters and two of their husbands, and close friends. En route to a brewery, the limo’s brakes failed on a downhill stretch of road in Schoharie, west of Albany. The vehicle blew through a stop sign at over 100 mph and crashed into a small ravine, killing the limo driver, 17 passengers, and two bystanders outside the store.

Source: ABC News

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