NTSB finally has access to limo that caused death of 20

The 2018 crash of a 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine in upstate New York was a tragedy of epic proportions. The driver lost control of the vehicle when it went down a hill and through a stop sign and crashed through a parking lot and hit an embankment. The deadliest motor vehicle accident in the United States since 2005, all 17 of the passengers, the driver and two pedestrians were fatally injured in the crash.

After much legal posturing involving Scholarie County district attorney’s office, the state police and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a January 29 court date seems to have cleared the way for the NTSB to really begin its investigations. While these are usually done immediately after a crash with findings issued a few weeks later, this one begins four months after the October 6 crash.

Troubling details to examine

There were many red flags involving the limousine and its owner, who is now facing criminally negligent homicide charges. Chief amongst them was the general condition of the vehicle and the safety of its modifications and similar ones in other vehicles.

  • The modification: The “stretch” limo was extended from the stock 137-inch-long wheelbase to 180 inches. This enabled the vehicle to have an 18-person seating capacity and the new seats installed were not forward-facing. Despite the modification to the body, the vehicle did not get new brakes.
  • Failed inspections: The vehicle’s modification put it in a class where it needed to pass inspection by the Department of Transportation, which it failed because of the quality of the brakes and other issues. Nevertheless, the limo stayed on the road.

Statement by the NTSB

“The National Transportation Safety Board continues to gather information on the modifications and mechanical condition of the vehicle, the seat belt usage and survivability of the passengers, and the oversight of the passenger-carrying operation of the New York State Department of Transportation and New York State Department of Motor Vehicle,” a new NTSB press release states.

A cautionary tale

In this era of sober drivers and web-based car services like Uber, it is now commonplace for individuals or groups to hire transport. There are many questions to answer about the issues of liability of the negligent parties. Transportation safety advocates have also raised the alarm about a gap in regulations involving post-manufacturing modifications. Congress will likely address the oversight, but that is little consolation for the families of the victims. The families are preparing to take action with likely help coming from the findings of the NTSB, but anyone injured in a vehicle for hire or one that has been modified should similarly reach out to knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience handing motor vehicle accidents.