SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The criminal trial of Nauman Hussain is now officially underway with opening statements and the first witness testimony now on the record.
Hussain was the owner of the limo company involved in the Schoharie limo crash that killed 20 people in 2018. He is charged with 20 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide.
Opening statements from both Special District Attorney Fred Rench and Defense Attorney Lee Kindlon focused on who should be responsible for the crash.
The prosecution said this is a case about personal responsibility: what Nauman Hussain was supposed to do to take care of his business, his vehicles and a pattern of disregard for rules and regulations related to limo safety.
The defense argued Hussain was thrown into his father’s business with little to no guidance; and misled by the auto-repair company to believe the limo was safe to use for business after multiple attempts to inspect and repair the limo.
Special District Attorney Fred Rench brought us through the timeline leading up to the crash, from when the limousine was bought by Hussain’s father to the numerous times it was taken out of service by the New York State Department of Transportation. He told the court Hussain disregarded the different rules and regulations relating to owning a commercial vehicle including getting the vehicle inspected by a certified DOT inspector. Rench also said Hussain, in multiple instances, conducted business under different names including his father’s, Shahed Hussain, or Shawn.
Leading up to the crash, Rench said Hussain was in consistent contact with Chad Smith, a roadside inspector with the State DOT, who first saw the limousine at a Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga County and flagged different issues including the limo capacity and the location it was getting fixed.
After the vehicle was flagged, Rench said the limousine was brought to Mavis multiple times for inspections and taken out of service. During one of those instances, Mavis informed Hussain the entire brake system needed to be replaced.
Rench explained Mavis is a DMV certified inspector, but was not eligible to inspect commercial vehicles on behalf of the DOT, which is required in order to operate a limousine.
Just 32 days before the crash, Rench said Smith arranged for another inspection of the vehicle after it was stopped and taken out of service for several violations by state police just two weeks earlier. He said Hussain consciously disregarded the guidelines and regulations that took the vehicle out of service.
“Nauman Hussain chose to operate a business, a limousine business that subjected him to state and federal regulation and his choice not to follow those regulations, that was designed to be evade, avoid, and ignore those regulations,” Rench said. “The evidence will show Mr. Hussain’s choices led directly to and caused the deaths of those 20 people on October 6, 2018.”
Hussain’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, argued the responsibility of this crash does not lie solely with Hussain. Kindlon explained to the jury that when Hussain took over his father’s businesses before the crash, he had little knowledge and education on the different rules relating to running a limousine business.
He said Hussain relied on Mavis Discount Tire to fix the brakes on the limousine and he was told by the company those repairs were made.
Kindlon spent time walking the jury through the same 2018 timeline as the prosecution, but adds that Hussain was not told by Mavis they were not authorized to inspect the limo.
He said the reason the limo was taken out of service 32 days before the crash was not because of a failing brake system, but because of three other issues: a child safety lock on the back door was broken, one of the emergency exits was malfunctioning and a decal meant to indicate the limo was modified was missing.
Kindlon throughout this trial intends to argue Hussain was not responsible for the deaths of these 20 victims, but was instead misled by Mavis and state agencies.
“If the brakes were fixed as Mavis told Nauman Hussain that work had been done, the way Mavis told him it had been done, those 20 people would still be alive,” Kindlon said. “The accident was caused by the fraud and failure of Mavis to fix the brakes and the incompetence of the State of New York,.”
After opening statements, we heard from the first witnesses in this trial who primarily dealt with Hussain through his businesses. The court heard testimony from Lawrence Macera, who was the original owner of the 2001 Ford Excursion and modified it into a stretch limousine.
During his testimony, Kindlon requested a mistrial after discovering Macera had pled guilty to theft of government property in 2015, a fact that was not disclosed to Kindlon by District Attorney Susan Mallery. That request, as well as the request to strike his testimony from the record, was denied.