On Saturday, October 6, 2018, about 1:55 p.m. (local time), a 2001 Ford Excursion XLT stretch limousine, operated by Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service, was traveling from Amsterdam, New York, to Cooperstown, New York, occupied by a 53-year-old driver and 17 passengers on a charter trip. The trip route was through a rural environment, consisting of rolling terrain with frequent changes in vertical grade and numerous curves. After making a right turn from New York State Route 7 (NY-7) onto New York State Route 30 (NY-30) near Schoharie, Schoharie County, New York, the limousine began a 1.81-mile descent to a stop sign-controlled T-intersection with New York State Route 30A (NY-30A). The posted speed limit on this section of NY-30 was 55 mph.
Shortly after the limousine made the right turn onto NY-30, witnesses reported seeing it move toward the right shoulder with its hazard lights activated. Subsequently, the limousine returned to the travel lane, continued south on NY-30, and began to accelerate down the descent to the T-intersection with NY-30A. The limousine did not stop at the intersection.
As the limousine neared the bottom of the grade, it approached the rear of a 2016 Jeep Patriot sport utility vehicle (SUV) in the same lane, which was stopped at the stop sign for NY-30 at the T-intersection with NY-30A. The two SUV occupants reported hearing the limousine—which they said sounded like a “jet engine”—and seeing it approach the SUV from behind at a high rate of speed. The limousine driver steered left to avoid the SUV, proceeded past the stop sign and through the intersection without slowing, and crossed the east- and westbound travel lanes of NY-30A (traffic on NY-30A did not have a stop sign for the intersection). The limousine entered the driveway of the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store restaurant and struck an unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander SUV parked in a grassy field adjacent to the driveway. The limousine was traveling an estimated 101–118 mph when it collided with the Toyota SUV. The SUV was propelled in a southerly direction and struck two pedestrians who were standing near the SUV. The speed of the limousine was reduced to about 80 mph as it continued about 55 feet south, entered a ravine, and then struck an earthen embankment and several trees. At final rest, the limousine was in a streambed at the bottom of the ravine facing west with the driver’s side against the backslope of the ravine. The SUV came to rest facing south on the opposite side of the ravine.
The probable cause of the Schoharie, New York, crash was Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service’s egregious disregard for safety, in dispatching a stretch limousine with an out-of-service order for a passenger charter trip, resulting in the failure of its brake system while descending the steep grade of New York State Route 30. Contributing to the crash was the New York State Department of Transportation’s ineffective oversight of Prestige Limousine, despite its knowledge of the carrier’s multiple out-of-service violations and lack of operating authority, as well as the department’s inadequate repair verification process. Further contributing to the crash was the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles’ inadequate oversight of state-licensed inspection stations and its failure to properly register the limousine, which enabled Prestige Limousine to circumvent the state’s safety regulations and more rigorous inspection requirements.
We made recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the State of New York, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the National Limousine Association.