The background of both Scott Lisinicchia and the limo rental company he drove for have come under scrutiny after Saturday's crash in Schoharie, New York

By KC Baker
October 10, 2018 12:44 PM
Credit: Hans Pennink/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The driver in Saturday’s limousine crash in upstate New York, which killed 20 people, had previously been cited for a minor drug possession, PEOPLE confirms — as reports emerge that the vehicle he was driving had a record of safety and inspection issues.

The background of both 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia and the company he drove for have come under intense scrutiny as authorities try to determine whether he caused the crash or if some kind of vehicle or road issue, or a combination of factors, is to blame.

Local TV station WABC reports that in a statement issued via their attorney, Lisinicchia’s family said they suspected he had been unwittingly “provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe.”

His family described him as “a loving and caring man who never would have knowingly put others in harm’s way,” and they urged others to “to reserve judgment” until the appropriate investigations were complete.

Reports from multiple news outlets — citing public records and statements from officials involved — support the contention that the limo company was plagued by inspection and safety problems. The company reportedly maintains a small fleet of vehicles.

According to the Associated Press, the vehicles owned by Prestige Limousine, of Gansevoort, New York, incurred 22 maintenance violations in 2018. The company’s attorney, Lee Kindlon, said the problems had been solved, telling CBS News:

“Those safety issues had been addressed and corrected. Not all infractions are major. A lot of these things are minor and were fixed.”

A state spokesman disputed this characterization, however, and said the limo that Lisinicchia was driving was recently ruled “unserviceable,” according to the AP.

Kindlon instead said that the roadway itself — notorious among locals — was at issue, according to the Albany Times Union.

“I think [Lisinicchia] came up over that hill unfamiliar with territory,” Kindlon said. “I think the state has been warned about that intersection for years and the Department of Transportation is just looking to point a finger.”

Newsday reports that in the the last two years, Prestige’s vehicles had an 80 percent out-of-service rate due to inspections necessitating maintenance.

A limo with the same license plate as the one involved in Saturday’s crash had been cited in September for “malfunctioning anti-lock braking system warning lights,” among other issues, according to NBC News.

The limo had received a “brakes out of service” citation during a March inspection, the network reports.

However, federal records do not show any previous crashes for the company’s vehicles in the last two years, until last weekend, according to Newsday.

Both police and the National Transportation Safety Board are examining the circumstances around the crash.

Via their attorney, Prestige has said it “extends its deepest condolences to the family members and friends of those who tragically lost their lives on Saturday,” according to NBC News.

In another comment, Kindlon described Lisinicchia as “a longtime employee and friend. Our focus right now is offering condolences to the victims. We’re waiting for the investigation and process to take hold.”

Prestige’s representatives, Lisinicchia’s family and their attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.

Lisinicchia was at the wheel of the oversized vehicle on Saturday afternoon when it careened downhill through a stop sign at a T-intersection of two highways in Schoharie — killing him, his 17 passengers and two bystanders.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that Lisinicchia did not have the proper commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement, as required by state law to operate the limo.

Cuomo also said the limo itself had failed an inspection in September.

The limo, a 2001 Ford Excursion, was “chopped” and elongated and was subject to federal review that it was legal, Cuomo said, according to NBC News. However, it did not have such approval.

Lisinicchia has previously had seemingly insignificant brushes with the law.

He was twice charged with minor drug charges in the last eight years, according to a local news outlet and the Saratoga Springs Police Department.

The Saratogian reported that on July 2, 2010, Lisinicchia, then 45, was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana in Saratoga Springs.

Lt. Bob Jillson, a spokesman for the Saratoga Springs police, confirmed the charge to PEOPLE and described it as a small offense.

“It’s not even considered a crime by law, so we just gave him a ticket for it,” Jillson says. “It’s nothing with an arrest photo or fingerprints.”

Three years later, on Nov. 22, 2013, Lisinicchia was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana and an equipment violation following a traffic stop in Saratoga Springs, the Saratogian previously reported.

However, speaking with PEOPLE, Jillson was unable to confirm the latter incident, though a record of it was printed in the local newspaper at the time.

The charge, he says, may have been sealed in court but he could not definitively explain why it was no longer available.

A Saratoga Springs Traffic Court clerk said she could not verify the information over the phone.

The limo passengers killed on Saturday were close friends, relatives and couples. They had hired the vehicle to take them to a local brewery to celebrate the 30th birthday of fellow passenger Amy Steenburg.

Authorities have said the limo failed to stop as it reached a T-intersection where two state highways meet in Schoharie.

Heading down the hill at a fast speed, the limo plowed into the parking lot of an adjacent business, striking a vehicle that killed two pedestrians.

As investigators search for answers, the victims’ loved ones struggle to move on.

“It’s terrible. I lost my baby,” Martina Wieblitz Halse told PEOPLE of daughter Amanda Halse. “I last saw her the week before on a Saturday. There’s nothing, nothing worse than this.”

• Reporting by CAITLIN KEATING