BILLERICA, MASS. (WHDH) - The operators of an auto auction house in Billerica are each facing five counts of manslaughter after the driver of an SUV accelerated out of control, killing five people and injuring seven others in May 2017, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said.
Indictments announced Thursday allege that Lynnway Auto Auction, Inc. and company president James Lamb are criminally responsible for willfully, wantonly, and recklessly failing to take appropriate actions that could have prevented death.
A 2006 Jeep Cherokee, driven by a 76-year-old employee, lurched out of control on the morning of May 3, plowing into a group of people before slamming through a concrete wall. He was not charged in the incident.
After an extensive examination of the crash, investigators concluded that Lynnway Auto Auction, Inc. and Lamb, who was responsible for day-to-day operations, were aware of shortfalls in the safety measures in place at the auction facility and that they failed to ensure that all drivers were properly licensed and trained.
“This is the first time we’ve charged a corporation with manslaughter,” Ryan said during a press conference.
The crash claimed the lives of 48-year-old Brenda Lopez and 49-year-old Pantaleon Santos, both of Rhode Island, 36-year-old Leezandra Aponte, of Lowell, 55-year-old Ruben Espaillat, of Methuen, and 50-year-old Elliott Rowlands Jr., of Buzzards Bay.
Based on a review of video surveillance of the crash, investigators determined that the Jeep pulled up to the garage door and within seconds rapidly accelerated, leaving the red vehicle travel lane and crossing into the blue pedestrian lane. The vehicle continued until it crashed through a cinder block wall.
Investigators say the driver crossed the entire length of the auction house in under four seconds. Based on the reconstruction of the crash, it is estimated that the vehicle was traveling at about 32 mph before crashing.
After the incident, the auction house agreed to add several safety measures, including the installation of barriers in the auto area, in addition to paying $200,000 in penalties.
The driver will not face criminal charges even though he was driving with an expired driver’s license. Under Massachusetts law, an individual is allowed to operate a motor vehicle on private property without a license.
An arraignment date for Lamb has not yet been scheduled.
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