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Operator of limo in fatal upstate N.Y. crash charged with criminally negligent homicide

Nauman Hussain, the operator of Prestige Limousine, faces a single count that names all 20 victims.

The operator of the limousine company whose vehicle was involved in the fatal crash that killed 20 people Saturday in upstate New York has been arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide, state police told NBC News.

Nauman Hussain, the operator of Prestige Limousine, was taken into custody after a traffic stop on Wednesday, New York State Police said. He was charged with a single count of criminally negligent homicide, but the charge lists all 20 victims, police said.

Late Wednesday he pleaded not guilty and was released after posting bond, according to NBC News affiliate WNYT in Albany. He turned over his passport as a condition of release.

Nauman Hussain's father, Shahed Hussain — who has worked as an FBI informant — owns Prestige Limousine, of Gansevort, New York, according to the company's attorney. Earlier this week, police said Shahed Hussain — who has not been charged with a crime — was in Pakistan at the time of the accident and noted they have no authority to ask the elder Hussain to return to the United States.

"The sole responsibility for that motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain," New York State Police Superintendent George Beach said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Lee Kindon, of the Kindon Law Firm, which represents Prestige Limousine, said in a separate news conference after the arrest that state police had "jumped the gun" in charging his client, adding that while Nauman helped his father run the business, Shahed Hussain ran the company's day-to-day operations and owned the company's bank accounts.

"He's terrified. Hasn't eaten in three days. Hasn't slept in three days," Kindon said of Nauman. "He’s got the eyes of the world looking at him because they want someone to blame. He's gotten death threats."

Image: Nauman Hussain leaves with his lawyer Lee Kindlon after posting bond at Cobleskill Town Court in Cobleskill
Nauman Hussain, from left, the operator of a limousine company that owned the vehicle involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York, leaves with his lawyer Lee Kindlon, from right, after posting bond at Cobleskill Town Court in Cobleskill, New York on October 10, 2018.Cindy Schultz / Reuters

On Wednesday evening a vigil for victims was held in the gym of Schoharie Central School.

The names of the deceased were read, each followed by by the ring of a bell. About a half-dozen first responders engaged in a group hug. "Amazing Grace" was played on the bagpipe.

Attending the vigil, New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul asked, "In the aftermath, can we be better people?"

She said only God knows why the accident happened "but we're going to find out how."

She added, "individuals who broke the law perhaps are going to be brought to justice."

The crash occurred Saturday afternoon when the driver of the 2001 Ford Excursion failed to stop at an intersection in Schoharie, New York, and careened into a parking lot before slamming into an unoccupied SUV, striking pedestrians, authorities said. Twenty people, including the driver of the Excursion and two pedestrians, were killed.

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the limousine failed an inspection last month and should not have been on the road. Cuomo also said the driver, Scott Lisinicchia, 53, did not have the specific documentation — a commercial driver's license with a passenger endorsement — required to drive the limo.

NBC News obtained records showing that the limo had been cited numerous times for safety violations, including having "brakes out of service." Lisinicchia's family has said he had complained about the safety of the vehicle.

The citation for the breaks, which was issued after a March 21 inspection, indicated that 20 percent or more of the roughly five-ton "stretch" limo's stopping power was compromised.

A preliminary hearing on the allegations against Hussain was scheduled for Oct. 23.