'Death traps': Parents of limo crash victims urge new laws

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Parents of people killed in recent limousine crashes in New York state urged legislators Thursday to pass tougher safety regulations to get unsafe vehicles and operators off the road.

Several provided tearful testimony about last fall’s crash in rural Schoharie County that killed 20 and a wreck on Long Island in 2015 that killed four young women on a winery tour. The crashes, they said, show tougher rules and better enforcement are needed.

“New York dropped the ball on this numerous times,” said Janet Steenburg, who lost two sons in the Schoharie crash. “This should never have happened. This should never have been allowed to happen.”

Specifically, the group wants a new state law requiring seat belts and air bags for all limo passengers, along with stronger inspection rules and better enforcement to ensure vehicles and drivers have proper licenses and permits.

“These vehicles are death traps. We cannot allow these vehicles to share our roads,” said Mindy Grabina, whose daughter died in 2015 when the limo she was riding in with friends on Long Island was T-boned while trying to make a U-turn. “We cannot allow these vehicles to share our roads.”

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Lawmakers vowed to take action following the Schoharie crash, which involved a modified stretch limo that authorities say should not have been on the road.

Earlier this year, as part of the state budget, lawmakers voted to increase penalties for operating a limo without proper licensing or violating safety rules. They also authorized state police and transportation officials to seize the license plates of noncompliant vehicles. But lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing said they want to do more before they end the session in June.

Limo company owners testified at Thursday’s hearing, too, telling lawmakers that better enforcement by state authorities is the best way to root out unsafe vehicles and drivers and prevent future deaths. They noted that the number of fatal limousine crashes is dwarfed by the amount of deaths involving school buses, taxis or commuter trains.

“We’re a very, very regulated industry that is held very accountable,” said David Brown, president of an Albany-area transportation company that rents buses, vans and limos.

Law enforcement and agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles need to do a better job sharing information about drivers or vehicles that don’t meet the requirements of the law, Brown said.

Lawmakers who attended Thursday’s hearing said they’ll weigh the different perspectives as they craft legislative changes.

“We have our work cut out for us,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat from Buffalo and the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, which held Thursday’s hearing.

The operator of the company involved in last fall’s crash , Nauman Hussain, has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. Authorities say the limo ran a stop sign on Oct. 6 and crashed beside a country store, killing the driver, two pedestrians and 17 passengers bound for a birthday celebration.

Just weeks before the crash, the limo had failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes.

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