WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR…
THE CRASH: Family Gathering For Birthday Ends In Distaster
THE VICTIMS: N.Y. Town Overcome By Grief Holds Vigil
THE DANGER: How To Stay Safe When Booking A Limousine Ride
THE INVESTIGATION: Report: Limo Company Owner Was FBI Informant
SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – New York State is taking steps to shut down the limousine company involved in a crash that killed 20 people over the weekend in Schoharie.
This comes as National Transportation Safety Board investigators are working to figure out if the limo’s extensive modifications contributed to the tragedy. They say the 2001 Ford Excursion limo had been extended over the years to accommodate more passengers.
“We want to make sure that the vehicle, when it was converted, that the conversion was conducted in accordance with federal regulations,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
Investigators say they also want to make sure there isn’t a more widespread issue with limos that have been extended. They now have the vehicle’s black box, of sorts, and hope it may give them new information about what happened in the moments before the driver failed to stop at a stop sign.
Prestige Limousine, of nearby Saratoga Springs, has taken its fleet off the road. CBS2 has learned the company pulled four vehicles out of service after failing inspections over the past two years.
“It’s unusual right now for people to be pointing fingers and trying to lay blame when there are so many things that have yet to be uncovered,” said the company’s attorney, Lee Kindlon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the limo involved in the crash failed a state inspection just last month.
“The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road,” he said Monday.
“We’re also in possession of the airbag control module, what would be considered the vehicle’s black box. That is being analyzed for post-crash data,” New York State Police Commander Major Robert Patnaude said.
Authorities say the driver, Scott Lisinicchia, did not have the appropriate license to operate the vehicle.
Attorneys for Lisinicchia’s widow released a statement saying they think he was given a bad vehicle to drive.
“The Lisinicchia family is devastated by the horrific tragedy that occurred in Scoharie and their prayers go out to all the families that lost loved ones,” the statement said. “Mrs. Lisinicchia’s husband Scott was a loving and caring man who never would have knowingly put others in harm’s way. The family believes that unbeknownst to him he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants.”
Investigators are also looking into whether the passengers were wearing seat belts at the time. The limo was equipped with some in the back, but it’s not known whether there were enough for everyone.
In New York State, only the driver and front passenger are required to wear them.
The limo carrying 17 passengers and the driver was headed to a brewery Saturday in Cooperstown for a 30th birthday celebration, when investigators say it ran a stop sign, hit and killed two pedestrians in a country store parking lot, and then drove into a parked SUV and down a slope.
Roger Mahon was sitting on his porch near the Apple Barrel Store and Café when he says, “bam, it sounded like a tractor-trailer slamming into something.”
“It was chaos. People running, people on their phones, people yelling ‘911, CPR!’ I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that many people,” he added.
On Monday night, 3,000 people holding candles high packed a park in nearby Amsterdam, where many of the victims worked and lived.
“To lose a teacher, a family member, a best friend – it’s terrible,” one woman said.
Friends of Patrick Cushing say he was a one-of-a-kind soul. The grief is all over the faces of his loved ones, who say they’re feeling lost after losing an irreplaceable member of their group.
“Everyone knows the bond that we share in the light and the life and the light that Patrick is,” Rob Immel said.
Immel says Cushing had a reputation for walking into a roomful of strangers and coming out with a new set of best buddies.
“He didn’t see boundaries, he didn’t care about anything, he just spread the smile,” Immel said. “The out-of-the-box experience that he brought to everyone was just a gift.”
Friends and family say Cushing was smart, working in IT for the New York State Senate during the day. At night, he was a sportsman, playing in a competitive dodgeball league.
Cushing and Amanda Halse, the girlfriend whom he adored, were among the 17 friends who were in the limousine that crashed on Saturday.
State Police on Tuesday released a full list of the victim’s names hours after the governor ordered flags to be flown at half staff in honor of the victims beginning Thursday.
“In the wake of the Schoharie crash, it is hard to fathom the extent of this tragedy. We lost mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters, brothers and friends, and the community will never be the same,” he said in a statement. “The entire family of New York mourns for the lives cut short in this crash.”
The Apple Barrel Store and Cafe is collecting donations for the first responders and will hold a vigil Wednesday night.
The crash is being called the deadliest transportation wreck in nine years.