NTSB Investigation of Limo Crash Finally Begins

We posted a blog story about the tragic crash of a Ford Excursion stretch limo last year. The driver, 17 passengers, and two pedestrians were killed when the vehicle lost control on a hill in upstate New York and went through a stop sign, across cross traffic, a parking lot where it killed the pedestrians before coming to a stop on an embankment. It was the worst transportation accident since 2005.

Normally the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates major crashes in the days following the incident and then publishes its findings within a few weeks. Unfortunately, the county prosecutor, the state police, and NTSB were at odds over jurisdiction because it was at the center of the county’s investigation involving charges of criminally negligent homicide by the owner of the limo service. There is now news that a recent court date has cleared the way for the NTSB to begin, but the four-month gap since the crash likely means that some evidence is compromised.

Preliminary report issued

The NTSB has released a preliminary report which in part states: “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.”

Investigation likely to inform changes in laws

Along with complaints that the vehicle was improperly maintained by the owner, there was a troubling report that the vehicle had failed mandatory safety tests and was still on the road. However, the accident also highlighted a gap in safety laws regarding vehicles like the one involved in the crash.

The Ford Excursion was modified aftermarket, so its original 137-inch wheelbase was “stretched” to 180 inches. There were also new non-manufacturer seats that did not face forward as is the traditional seating configuration. There was also an initial discussion of the fact that there were no safety airbags and additional structural support. However, the cause of the crash was likely brake failure – the vehicle had stock brakes rather than ones that could handle the increased size of the vehicle and the accompanying payload.

Congress is looking at making changes to the laws regarding post-market modifications of vehicles. While this is little consolation to the families of the deceased, the families have already begun the process of filing civil suits against the limousine service by working with knowledgeable personal injury attorneys.


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