Limo company's violations, owner's unusual past come to light after deadly crash

The limousine that crashed and killed 20 people in upstate New York never should have been on the road, investigators said Monday. The limo's driver, Scott Lisinicchia, who died in Saturday's crash, did not have a proper license and the vehicle failed an inspection last month, according to officials. Federal records also show Prestige Limousines, the company that owns the limo, has been cited for 22 violations in the last 24 months, reports CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan. 

The National Transportation Safety Board says the Ford Excursion limo carrying 18 young people to a birthday celebration was originally a traditional SUV that was stretched. The board is now examining when and how the vehicle was converted and what caused this tragedy.

 "That company and that vehicle have been under scrutiny at the DOT (Department of Transportation) in the past," said state police Major Robert Patnaude.
 
According to federal records, in September, three Prestige vehicles failed inspections, and were cited for multiple violations – including no or defective emergency exits and malfunctioning brakes.

"Those safety issues had been addressed and corrected," said attorney Lee Kindlon, who represents Prestige Limousine. "Not all infractions are major. A lot of these things are minor and were fixed."

Kindlon said he doesn't think those infractions contributed to the tragedy.

Police say Prestige's 2001 Ford Excursion limo was traveling southwest on State Route 30 in Schoharie Saturday when it drove through a stop sign at an intersection. There are no signs the limo tried to brake, as it barreled into a parking lot outside a country store. There it struck and killed two pedestrians, and slammed into an unoccupied Toyota Highlander, before landing in the woods. All 18 people inside were killed.
 
"The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Prestige Limo is owned by local resident Shahed Hussain. According to court and public records, a man by the same name, was caught in Albany in 2001 trying to help someone obtain a driver's license illegally. He pleaded guilty in 2003, and became an FBI informant. Records show he testified in several high-profile terror cases. A photo taken from surveillance videotape shows him in 2004 as an informant holding an inert rocket launcher during a sting operation. Kindlon says his client is currently out of the country.

"We did have a phone conversation early this afternoon….He wanted me to again do whatever I could to express to the families and the victims his sorrow," Kindlon said.

The FBI isn't commenting on whether Hussain was an informant. Authorities seized four vehicles from Prestige, including the limo. Police say the victims in the limo had tried to hire a bus through a different company before the crash, but the bus broke down. At the last minute, they hired Prestige.