Prosecutor: Repair shop billing not to blame for limo crash

FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, a New York state trooper and members of the National Transportation Safety Board view the scene of a fatal crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie, N.Y. The National Transportation Safety Board called Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, for new seat belt requirements for limousines almost a year after a Ford Excursion SUV that had been modified into a huge stretch limo blew through a T-intersection in rural Schoharie and went into the woods.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A former repair shop manager told investigators that brake work was billed but not performed on the stretch limousine that crashed five months later in upstate New York, killing 20 people, according to court papers released to reporters on Wednesday.

The former manager of a Mavis Discount Tire shop told investigators in a Sept. 17 interview that a brake master cylinder was invoiced but not installed at the time of a May 2018 inspection. It's not clear if the master cylinder, which converts pressure on the brake pedal to hydraulic pressure to apply the brakes, was needed to replace a defective one on the limousine.

The 2001 Ford Excursion limo blew through an intersection and crashed in rural Schoharie County on Oct. 6.

The interview was disclosed by Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery this week in a letter to lawyers for limo company operator Nauman Hussain as part of the pre-trial motions and disclosures. She said the information "may or may not be deemed material subject to disclosure" but was provided "in an excess of caution" because of the prosecution's obligation to disclose any material helpful to the defense.

According to Mallery's letter, the former manager told investigators it was a common billing practice at Mavis to substitute certain services on invoices for the ones actually performed, in order to meet corporate sales quotas. For example, on a January 2018 invoice, a power steering flush was listed when the work actually involved exhaust repairs. Mallery's letter did not say whether the billed brake master cylinder was necessary.

The defense renewed a motion to dismiss manslaughter and homicide charges against Hussain.

Prosecutors allege Hussain allowed an improperly licensed driver to operate an "unserviceable" vehicle. The vehicle sped down a long hill and through a T-intersection before crashing near the parking lot of a country store. Prosecutors say the vehicle had a "catastrophic brake failure." The National Transportation Safety Board hasn't released an official cause of the crash.

Just weeks before the crash, the limo had failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes.

Mavis has been named in several civil lawsuits filed by estates of crash victims because it performed the vehicle's most recent inspections. A corporate representative of Mavis Discount Tire in Millwood, New York, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

The court documents were first reported by the Times Union and later released by the court.

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