Enhanced safety for NY limos eyed as task force assembles

A grievance shrine is shown at the scene of the 2015 limo tragedy that killed 20 people in the town of Schoharie. (The Associated Press)

ALBANY — More than three years after a limousine crash killed 20 people in Schoharie County, a newly-minted state task force is preparing to hold its first meeting Feb. 3.

The 11-member Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force was assembled in recent weeks following the 2020 passage of legislation drafted by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale.

Its first meeting will be held virtually at 1 p.m. Feb. 3.

One of its members, Ronald Barton of Otego, told CNHI he is optimistic that the work of the task force will lead to improvements in the manner in which state agencies oversee the limousine operators.

Barton has unsuccessfully sought to convince the state Inspector General's office to launch a probe into the state's handling of required inspections for the stretch limousine involved in the tragic October 2018 crash that killed all 18 occupants as well as two pedestrians outside the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe in the town of Schoharie.

The investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board raised questions about the chronology of state inspections and repairs performed on the Ford Excursion vehicle. The investigation determined that the vehicle experienced catastrophic brake failure.

Bartono praised Paulin, a veteran lawmaker who had been an ardent proponent for stronger safety measures for limousines even before that mishap, for shepherding the task force measure through the statehouse.

"She fights for things that people really care about and don't benefit her," said Barton, who was appointed by Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County.

Paulin, in an interview with CNHI, said she hopes the task force can help put a national spotlight on the need for improved safety standards for limousines.

"I've had many conversations with very reputable limousine companies and they all believe things need to happen and things need to change," the assemblywoman said. "There are problems that could be addressed."

Paulin said she hopes that state agencies responsible for ensuring limousines are safe will identify ways in which they can more closely coordinate their efforts. The state could also do a better job keeping repair shops notified of their obligations with respect to such vehicles.

Another advocate for improved safety appointed to the task force is Kevin Cushing, whose son, Patrick, was killed in the crash while he and the other victims were headed to Brewery Ommegang near Cooperstown for a weekend outing.

Also on the panel are: Edward Stoppelmann, founder of Red Oak Transportation in Port Chester; Nancy DiMonte, whose daughter was killed in a 2015 limousine crash on Long Island and David J. Brown, president of Premiere Transportation in Albany. The task force also includes: two former state transportation commissioners, Joan McDonald and Matthew Driscoll; Albro Fancher, a state police official who was appointed by Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay; State Police Supt. Kevin Bruen; state Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez; and state Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder

Last September, as part of a plea agreement, the manager of the limousine company that rented the vehicle to those killed, Nauman Hussain, was given five years of probation when he agreed to plead guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide.

The crash took more lives than any other U.S. highway calamity over the past decade.

Several civil suits have been filed in connection with the tragedy.

Individuals wishing to access the task force meeting may do so through this link: https://meetny.webex.com/meetny/onstage/g.php?MTID=e714ede922ad75f8b4fc1d602a9302a96

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