The National Transportation Safety Board has been blocked by the local district attorney’s office from accessing a limousine that crashed in New York state in October, killing 20 people, and other key pieces of evidence, the agency said.
In a letter to Susan Mallery, the district attorney of Schoharie County in New York, the federal agency said she was keeping it from completing an investigation.
“The delays you imposed have denied the NTSB access to the primary, essential evidence, resulting in safety-critical evidence being lost,” NTSB General Counsel Kathleen Silbaugh wrote in the three-page letter, which was dated Dec. 14 and posted Thursday on the agency’s website.
Silbaugh wrote that Mallery has been unresponsive to repeated NTSB requests to access evidence. A message seeking comment from Mallery wasn’t immediately returned.
On Oct. 6, a white stretch Ford Excursion limousine lost control, barreled through a stop sign and slammed into an unoccupied SUV in the small town of Schoharie, New York, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Albany, the state capital. The crash was the deadliest U.S. transportation accident since 2009.
Prosecutors charged the operator of the limousine service with criminally negligent homicide, the Associated Press reported in October.
In areas such as aviation NTSB has been granted legal authority to control how investigations are conducted. But in highway accidents, the safety board can’t dictate how local authorities operate — at time leading to tensions such as in the current case.
In the two months that the NTSB’s been sidelined, “key perishable safety investigative information may have been lost,” Silbaugh wrote to Mallery.
For example, NTSB investigators may no longer be able to evaluate corrosion on the vehicle or its parts that existed at the time of the crash, which is critical when examining brakes, or the state of the vehicle’s electrical system, Silbaugh wrote.
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