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Senators want stricter laws for stretch limos

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on the federal government to increase regulations on stretch limousines in the wake of the deadly Oct. 6 crash in Schoharie that killed 20.

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, Albany Times

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on the federal government to increase regulations on stretch limousines in the wake of the deadly Oct. 6 crash in Schoharie that killed 20.

It's almost the same push for action he made in 2015 when a stretch limousine in Suffolk County was hit by a pickup truck, killing four women inside.

Last week Schumer, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, sent a letter asking the National Transportation Safety Board to implement new federal safety regulations for stretch limousines.

"The heartbreaking stretch limousine accident in Schoharie painfully reminded the federal authorities who create safety standards through rule-making and enforcement that _ in terms of safety for passengers, drivers, and pedestrians _ stretch limousines are woefully under-regulated; they fall into a gap between cars and buses, both of which have well-developed safety rules," Schumer said in a statement.

The senators asked the NTSB to evaluate how stretch limousines are built, identify any potential safety gaps in federal standards and conduct a study on improving passenger protections. Those requests are nearly identical to the requests Schumer made in 2015.

The senators also asked the federal agency to review whether limousines should be classified as commercial vehicles. That would require drivers to carry a commercial driver's license and undergo more training. The driver in the Schoharie crash, Scott Lisinicchia, did have a CDL but lacked the proper license classification to drive a limousine with that many passengers, according to the New York State Police.

The crash was the deadliest transportation incident in the country since a 2009 plane crash in Buffalo that killed 49 people.

After the 2015 limousine crash on Long Island, the board agreed to investigate limo crashes on a case-by-case basis. However, Schumer says that the board hasn't thoroughly investigated a limousine crash in three years. Those probes, he told The Associated Press, could have resulted in "critical safety data" that could be used to craft new limousine regulations.

In that 2015 crash, a modified town car limousine with eight passengers was leaving a winery and was attempting to make a U-turn when it was struck by another vehicle.

Factory-built limousines must meet stringent federal safety regulations. But cars converted into limos, like the one in Schoharie, often lack such safety components as side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. Few federal regulations govern limos modified after leaving the factory, and regulations can vary by state.

In the Schoharie case, the New York state Department of Transportation noted on a September inspection report of the Ford Excursion limo that it did not have the appropriate federal seal certifying that it had been safely modified to be a stretch vehicle. And the modification dated back to almost the day it left the factory in 2001.

State inspections of the Schoharie crash limo in March and September also revealed serious violations, which included the vehicle having inadequate brakes and the company, Prestige Limousine, having not yet received the operating authority to do business in New York state.

In their letter last week, the senators also asked for the administration to accept any recommendations from the NTSB, which is investigating the crash.

The board's investigators did not have access to the limo wreckage until Friday because of the parallel criminal investigation by New York State Police, who have not yet revealed a cause for the crash.

Prestige's operator, Nauman Hussain, has been charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide.

The federal board is expected to issue a preliminary report within the next few weeks, but a full investigation may take a year or more.

The State Police announced Friday that all 20 victims _ 17 passengers celebrating a 30th birthday, the limousine driver, and two pedestrians outside the Apple Barrel store where the vehicle crashed _ died of multiple severe traumatic blunt force injuries.

The birthday group was headed to Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown when the limousine ran through a stop sign, crossed an Apple Barrel parking area and crashed into a ravine near the intersection of routes 30 and 30A.

Hussain, 28, is due back in Cobleskill Town Court on Tuesday.

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