A judge's unexpectedly move to vacate a plea in the case of Nauman Hussain elicited strong reactions from all sides of the deadly limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie County.
The plea deal would have allowed Hussain, the limo company’s operator, to avoid jail time after pleading guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide for his role in the devastating crash.
But that was before Judge Peter Lynch intervened on Wednesday and blocked the deal.
“I am not going to abide by the plea agreement,” Lynch said in a ruling that surprised many in the Capital Region. “It’s completely disingenuous.”
Lynch said Hussain knew the risk of putting the limo on the road, having removed an “out of service” sticker issued by the state a month prior to the fatal crash.
The judge said Hussain pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide and five years probation was “unacceptable.”
Friends and families of the 20 people killed in the limo crash almost four years ago applauded Lynch for the decision.
But Chad Siegel, an attorney for Hussain, said "there has been no change in circumstances to warrant rejecting the plea which the court accepted.”
Shocked by the judge’s action, Hussain’s attorneys said they’ll move forward in preparing for a trial, but are looking into whether Lynch, who is presiding over the case after another judge retired, overstepped.
“That’s something else we’re exploring,” Siegel said.
Civil lawsuits are pending, including one against Mavis Discount Tire, which had made repairs to the limo. With an unsettled criminal case, legal experts say Wednesday’s ruling could complicate the others.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see another plea deal, or something like that, come about between the defense and prosecution, but we’re really in a wait-and-see pattern,” said attorney Ryan McCall of Tully Rinckey PLLC.
Wednesday’s ruling came after several minutes of emotional victim impact statements.
“I call out my son Shane’s name all the time, and no one answers,” said Shelia McGarvey, Shane McGowan’s mother.
“Since the day of this accident, it’s been one kick to the gut after another,” said Jeri Bursese, stepmother of Savannah Bursese.
Many of the victim’s parents are demanding accountability and justice.
“My son came out shredded, shattered and in pieces. And it sure would do me a bit good to hear 'I’m sorry,'” said Jill Richardson-Perez, the mother of Matthew Coons.
Sorry is something not all friends and families want to hear.
Siegel said, “There is nothing he can say today to alleviate the pain of these families what hasn’t already been said on his behalf. He certainly feel tremendous remorse and attrition.”