Auto auction owner denies manslaughter charges in 5 deaths
WOBURN, Mass. (AP) — The owner of a Massachusetts auto auction where five people were killed when a vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver plowed into a crowd pleaded not guilty Thursday to five counts of manslaughter.
James Lamb, 67, owner of the Lynnway Auto Auction in Billerica, was released on personal recognizance after his brief arraignment in Middlesex Superior Court.
Two people died at the scene when the Jeep Grand Cherokee accelerated into a crowd in May 2017 and crashed through a cinder block wall, and three died in the following days. Seven were injured. The driver, 76 at the time, had his license suspended in 2012. He was not charged because he was not on a public road and prosecutors said they could not prove that he acted recklessly.
Lamb hired unlicensed drivers despite being told not to, and failed to make necessary safety upgrades as required by federal regulators after an employee was hurt by a vehicle in the auction building in 2014, prosecutors said.
Lamb’s attorney, Hank Brennan, said outside court that the company “took every safety measure known” in the industry to protect customers and workers.
“He has been in the auto auction business for over 47 years and there is no way he ever, ever could have anticipated the terrible tragedy that occurred that day,” the attorney said.
What happened was an accident, not a crime, Brennan said.
Brenda Lopez, 48, of Providence, Rhode Island and Pantaleon Santos, 49, of Cumberland, Rhode Island, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Over the next several days, Leezandra Aponte, 36, of Lowell; Ruben Espaillat, 55, of Methuen; and Elliott Rowlands Jr., 50, of Bourne, also died.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later cited the business for a range of infractions, including blocked exit routes, electrical hazards and record-keeping deficiencies and recommended $267,000 in fines.