A prosecutor said that when 28-year-old Nauman Hussain was stopped by police on Wednesday morning and arrested in the deaths of 20 people in a limo crash last weekend, he was traveling with packed bags, according to multiple news outlets.
That detail — disclosed at Hussain’s arraignment later Wednesday, as reported by the Associated Press, CBS News and local TV station WTEN — raises the specter of a flight from justice. But it was disputed by Hussain’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, in comments after his hearing, according to WTEN.
Kindlon contended that his client’s family had received death threats in the days after one of the vehicles owned by their rental company Prestige Limo plunged downhill at a T-intersection of two state highways in Schoharie, New York, on Saturday.
All 18 people aboard and two bystanders were killed.
“He [Hussain] felt as though he could be in danger at that house, so at that moment he was just leaving and didn’t really have a plan other than getting away,” Kindlon said, according to WTEN.
“You can imagine what people would say in a situation like this,” said Kindlon, who noted that Hussain is a citizen who handed over his passport. “I will not give dignity to those individuals who would think they have some sort of power over this case.”
Hussain is charged with criminally negligent homicide as authorities allege he knew of a series of issues with the limo involved in the crash.
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“The sole responsibility for that motor vehicle being on the road rests with Nauman Hussain,” State Police Superintendent George Beach II told reporters on Wednesday.
Beach cited multiple problems of which Hussain was aware, such as the limo having been ordered off the road in September and that driver Scott Lisinicchia “should not have been operating” the vehicle. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he was not properly licensed.)
A judge entered a not-guilty plea on Hussain’s behalf at his arraignment, according to the AP. He was released on bond.
His attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment but has said investigators are being hasty.
“Even the most simple investigation, done well, takes months,” Kindlon said Wednesday, the New York Times reported. “And now because of the actions taken today, that time frame is compressed.”
Kindlon has also blamed the intersection where the crash occurred, which includes a notorious hill pitching downward until it runs into the other road.
“I think [Lisinicchia] came up over that hill unfamiliar with territory,” Kindlon said in an interview with the Albany Times Union. “I think the state has been warned about that intersection for years and the Department of Transportation is just looking to point a finger.”
Superintendent Beach declined to discuss the case at length, citing the ongoing investigations, and he could not say if additional charges were possible or if Hussain’s father, who is reportedly the owner of Prestige Limo, could be arrested.
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Hussain’s father is out of the country, Beach said.
Kindlon said Hussain was not significantly involved in the daily operations of Prestige, instead leaving the bulk of work to his father, who is in Pakistan dealing with health issues, according to the Times.
The district attorney in the case, Susan Mallery, did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.