Driver in fatal auto auction crash has lengthy driving history, records show

BILLERICA, MASS. (WHDH) - The driver of a Jeep Cherokee that accelerated and killed four people at the LynnWay Auto Auction in Billerica last week has been blamed in several car crashes in the past 30 years, driving records show.

The SUV, driven by Roger Hartwell, 76, lurched out of control on the morning of May 3, plowing into a group of people before slamming through a concrete wall.

Hartwell has been found at fault in multiple crashes in Quincy, Weymouth and Milton dating back to 1986, according to driving records obtained from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Records show his license had been suspended on numerous occasions. Several violations for driving without an inspection sticker also appeared in the records.

The crash at the LynnWay Auto Auction resulted in four deaths. District Attorney Marian Ryan said Elliot Rowlands Jr., 50, of Buzzards Bay, died at Lahey Clinic in Burlington on Wednesday as a result of injuries suffered in the crash. It was announced last week that Rhode Island residents Brenda Lopez, 48, and Pantaleon Santos, 49, were pronounced dead at the scene. Another victim, Leezandra Aponte, 36 of Lowell, was also pronounced dead. Nine others were injured in the crash.

Investigators said Hartwell accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake, causing the deadly crash. LynnWay Auto Auction officials confirmed that he worked for the auction house and was behind the wheel with a suspended license at the time of the crash.

“The preliminary investigation suggests this is a tragic accident,” Ryan said in the hours following the incident.

Hartwell told 7News that the SUV accelerated on its own. He also questioned whether the vehicle was defective. He has not yet been charged as the crash remains under investigation.

The auction house reopened Wednesday for the first time since the incident with additional safety measures in place.

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