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Limo in New York crash that killed 20 failed inspection
[NEW YORK] The limousine involved in the deadliest transport accident in the United States for nearly a decade had failed an inspection and the driver was not properly licensed, a top official said Monday.
Twenty people were killed when the SUV-style stretch vehicle careened out of control on Saturday in Schoharie, a town in New York state, killing all 18 occupants and two pedestrians.
The passengers of the limo - including four sisters, newlyweds and young couples - were all reportedly celebrating a birthday party. They rented the limo after a plan to rent a different vehicle from another company collapsed.
Federal and state investigators are now pouring over the crash site and the wreckage, collecting data, and interviewing witnesses and relatives in a bid to piece together why the accident happened and to make sure nothing similar ever happens again.
Occupants of the vehicle reportedly sent text messages in the run-up to the collision complaining about the limo being unkempt and making a noise, and police called on anyone who may have received such messages to come forward.
Police said the 2001 Ford Excursion failed to stop at an intersection and continued into a parking lot, ultimately crashing into a parked car.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the driver lacked the appropriate license to operate that vehicle and the limousine last month failed a state inspection and was not supposed to be on the road.
The company that operated the limo has been served a cease and desist order until the investigation is concluded, Mr Cuomo added.
"The owner of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," the governor said.
Police confirmed only that the company and vehicle in question had "been under scrutiny in the past" and that officers had seized three other vehicles from the Saratoga County firm, based on a search warrant.
The owner of the company, Shahed Hussain, whom US media identified as an FBI informant who had testified in terrorism cases, was in Pakistan, police said.
Investigators will determine whether there is blame on his side.
"If there is, we will hold him accountable," Police Major Robert Patnaude told a news conference on Monday, adding that criminal charges would follow if warranted.
NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said that while some seats had belts, it was not clear if all of them did, nor whether anyone was wearing them. Extensive damage to the front of the car, he said, indicated "high-energy impact."
The investigation would also determine, he said, whether the "conversion" of the vehicle into a stretch limo had been done correctly.
It was the deadliest transport accident in the United States since a Colgan Air Flight from Newark, New Jersey to Buffalo, New York crashed in February 2009, killing 49.