Photo: Paul Grondahl/Special To The Times Union
QUEENSBURY — Kim Lisinicchia lives down a rutted dirt road in a double-wide mobile home. A broken-down Cadillac is parked out front. She’s behind on the $1,100 monthly rent.
She carries a heavy heart in need of redemption.
She is the wife of Scott Lisinicchia, the driver of the limousine that crashed on Oct. 6 in Schoharie and killed 20 people — all 17 passengers, two pedestrians and her husband.
In an outpouring of grief at funerals and public memorials, followed by fundraisers for victim’s families and widespread community support, almost none of the collective kindness filtered down to her.
Her husband is the asterisk in the most devastating U.S. transportation disaster in nearly a decade. His driving record was besmirched. As an employee, he was linked to an unscrupulous limo owner who stands charged with criminally negligent homicide. He often went unnamed in media coverage that attempted to take the measure of the immeasurable grief of victims’ families.
The driver’s wife is the forgotten victim, both benignly overlooked and consciously shunned as a pariah. She has been subjected to caustic comments on social media, as if her loss is any less deep, her suffering any less profound.
The limo driver’s wife has retreated mostly to the shadows, driven there by strangers who have cast her as persona non grata in a terrible tragedy that inflicted incalculable trauma.
On Saturday afternoon, inside her cramped mobile home decorated with African masks and batik jungle prints, Kim Lisinicchia poured out her personal story of anguish and distress for the first time.
“I just want vindication for my husband,” she said. “I want his name to stop being dragged through the dirt. Nobody is going to stick up for him but me.”
She dabbed at her eyes, paused to compose herself and choked back sobs.
“I pray for these families all the time,” she said. “I’m feeling their pain. It’s not easy for anybody. I lost my husband. He was my everything.”
She was tending bar at an Elks lodge in Saratoga 11 years ago when a man came in and ordered a Budweiser. He was a trucker and had just come off a long-distance haul. Because she did not have many black customers, he stood out.
She was born in Albany and moved to Los Angeles at 12 with her mother, who is of Haitian descent. She married, lived in Georgia and Connecticut and eventually left her first husband because he was abusive. She was a divorced woman in her early 40s, a single mother with two kids who was not looking for romance.
“I was done with men at that point,” she recalled. “It was slow at the bar and we just started talking. It was so easy, like we had known each other for a long time.” Scott, the son of a Sicilian father and black mother, was born in the Bronx and grew up in Ballston Spa. “We talked about anything and everything,” she said.
A few days later, he came back to the bar.
“I felt my heart fluttering when he walked in,” she said.
They talked some more and before he left, they exchanged phone numbers. They went on a few dates. She was nervous because she never dated a customer before, but they clicked.
They were the same age and he was slim, not quite 6 feet tall, with a goatee and close-cropped hair. She invited him to her place for dinner.
“He loved my soul food,” she said. “And he never left.”
The couple was married on April 4, 2008, at the AME Zion Church in Saratoga Springs.
They settled into the rhythm of a life built around his frequent absences as a tractor-trailer driver. She eventually gave up her work as an itinerant bartender and a stint as a caterer featuring Caribbean and soul food. She became disabled due to a back injury and other health problems. She was a stay-at-home mom for her two children: Cicero, now 27, and Mahogany, 18. Scott was a caring stepfather.
“We went to the movies and out to dinner. I’d ride with him on tractor-trailer trips and we’d save up to take vacations,” she said. “He loved to drive. He drove the whole way to Florida and back.”
He became the sole breadwinner in their household and made the most of his commercial driver’s license. He drove for several trucking companies, both tractor-trailers and dump trucks. After a hip replacement, he did not want to return to long-haul trucking, so he drove a cab and was an Uber driver in Saratoga Springs.
About a year ago, he heard of an opportunity to make some cash as a part-time driver for Prestige Limousine. “It was a side job that brought in some decent money,” she said.
Her son had attended Saratoga Springs High School with the limo company owner’s son, Nauman Hussain, and her husband liked the Hussain family.
“Scott thought the company was legit — he trusted Nauman and thought he was a good guy,” Lisinicchia said. “I think my husband was too trusting sometimes.”
She began to raise concerns when Hussain occasionally was late in paying her husband. Payments always came in cash.
On the Saturday of the crash, Lisinicchia knew something was wrong when her husband did not check in. “No matter where he was on a job, he would always call me,” she said.
She repeatedly called her husband’s cellphone, but got no answer.
She eventually reached Nauman Hussain. He was evasive, but told Lisinicchia there had been “an accident.” She sensed “a nervousness in his voice” and became alarmed. For hours, she frantically called area hospitals and police departments.
Around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, there was a knock at her door. Police informed her that her husband had been killed in the crash.
She learned from media reports that her husband was not licensed to drive a large passenger vehicle and that he had continued driving after he was ticketed in August, when a state trooper told him he could no longer drive the limo until he got a proper permit.
Media reports also emerged that Lisinicchia was issued three traffic tickets between 2010 and 2015 in Saratoga Springs for failure to signal a turn, having an obstructed view while driving, and failure to wear a seat belt. He was ticketed for using a cell phone while driving in Glens Falls in 2015 and never paid the fine.
“People started saying nasty things about him on Facebook, so I stopped looking at social media,” she said. “I just shut down.”
She wants to know the outcome of the investigation, as the other victims’ family members do. “I want to see all the evidence and I want answers,” she said. “I’m not in the business of blaming or judging. That’s God’s job.”
Scott Lisinicchia, 53, was buried in Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs. A year ago, his mother, June Lisinicchia, buried Scott’s younger brother, Anthony, who died at 40 of a heroin overdose in Troy. Scott’s twin brother, Keith, is the sole survivor of the mother’s three sons.
Kim Lisinicchia is now 53 and destitute. She has no income and is living on a small disability check. A total of $7,623 raised through a GoFundMe appeal all went to her husband’s funeral expenses. “I didn’t get a dime,” she said. She started a GoFundMe appeal to help pay rent and fix her car. So far, $168 has been donated toward a $4,000 goal.
She is behind on her utilities and fears they may be turned off. “I have a hard time asking for help,” she said. “People tell me they assumed I was getting some of the money raised for victims’ families. I got nothing. It’s not about that, though. I just want my husband vindicated. It’s hard on my kids to read all this hate.”
Lisinicchia has hired a lawyer and is part of legal proceedings filed by victims’ families against the Hussains and Prestige Limo.
“My wish is that one day all the families can come together and hug each other,” she said. “We all lost someone dear. I did not lose a child, but I lost a beloved husband and my best friend.”
Paul Grondahl is the director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany and a former Times Union reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org