In the days after a limousine crashed in upstate New York and killed 20 people, investigators quickly bore down on the limousine company, which had a record of repeated safety violations. Investigators made their first move at culpability on Wednesday, arresting the firm’s operator outside Albany and charging him with criminally negligent homicide.
Nauman Hussain, a son of Shahed Hussain, the owner of Prestige Limousine, had been issued written violations earlier this year after vehicle inspections by the State Police and the state Department of Transportation, said George P. Beach II, the superintendent of the State Police.
Mr. Hussain had also ignored orders from the Transportation Department that the limousine should not be driven and “should not have been on the road,’’ Superintendent Beach said.
He said it would be up to the Schoharie County district attorney, Susan J. Mallery, to decide whether to seek additional charges. Ms. Mallery is expected to present the case to a grand jury.
The arrest is the latest development in a fast-moving investigation focusing on the limousine — a 2001 Ford Excursion — that had repeatedly failed inspections, including one as recently as last month.
The company, which was doing business out of a low-budget hotel north of Albany, has been visited multiple times by State Police investigators, who are also seeking the elder Mr. Hussain, a former F.B.I. informant.
Among the victims in Saturday’s were 17 young friends — all between the ages of 24 and 34 — who had been traveling in the limousine for a birthday party trip at a local brewery.
In remarks to reporters outside a State Police barracks Wednesday afternoon, a lawyer for the limousine company, Lee Kindlon, said the State Police and other authorities were “jumping the gun” in arresting and charging Mr. Hussain.
The crash has also raised questions about the regulation and oversight of stretch limousines, specially made vehicles that are built from former cars or sport utility vehicles and often do not have to meet strict federal safety requirements. And while drivers of such elongated vehicles are required to wear seatbelts, passengers in the back are not.
The limousine that crashed had failed two inspections by state officials in the last seven months, inspection reports show. Both failures resulted in the limousine being ordered off the road until the defects inspectors found were fixed.
In the latest inspection, conducted in early September in Saratoga Springs and lasting 43 minutes, the limousine was found to have 18 seats but to be certified to carry no more than 10 passengers, including the driver.
It also was cited for a dangling brake line that could make contact with one of its tires. The limousine’s warning light for its hydraulic-braking system was staying on, the report showed. The owner was also faulted for not addressing problems noted in an earlier inspection.
An inspection report on the same limousine in March found that same brake warning light remaining lit and that its braking system was not working properly. The limousine was ordered out of service because its rear emergency exit window and a right-side emergency door were inoperable.
He also suggested that state officials should have addressed the road where the crash happened, which residents had long said was dangerous.
“This road was a problem,” Mr. Kindlon said. “It was a known problem to the State of New York.”
He added that Mr. Hussain’s father was “worried sick about his own son” and may return to the United States to assist in the investigation.