Nearly two years after five people were killed after being struck by a vehicle within the Lynnway Auto Auction Inc. building in Billerica, James Lamb, the company’s owner and president, as well as the company itself, have been charged with five counts each of manslaughter, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office in a news release.
“We are very aware that this has been a long and painful road for the families and the loved ones of the five people who died that day as well as the numerous people who were injured,” Ryan said in a press conference on Thursday.
A 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee allegedly accelerated as it entered the auction building and plowed into a group of people around 10:11 a.m. on May 3, 2017, before crashing into a cinderblock wall. The vehicle reached about 32 mph within the building, the release said.
Two of the victims — Pantaleon Santos and Leezandra Aponte — were pronounced dead at the scene. Brenda Lopez was taken to a nearby hospital where she later died. Nine additional people were taken to nearby hospitals and two more — Ruben Espaillat and Elliott Rowlands Jr. — later succumbed to their injuries, too, according to the release.
“The indictments allege that the company and Mr. Lamb are criminally responsible for having consciously failed to take those appropriate actions that would have prevented this tragedy,” Ryan said. “As the person responsible for Lynnway’s day-to-day operations, Mr. Lamb was aware of the shortfalls in the safety measures that took place at the facility, which included a 2014 incident where a worker had been seriously injured. He did not implement the safety measures that would have protected the pedestrians mingling and maneuvering between and around the moving vehicles as they were on the day of the crash.”
The unlicensed employee avoided charges because the auction room is not a public way, according to Ryan; this prohibits him from being charged with motor vehicle-related offenses.
“The only other offense available to charge the driver would have been with manslaughter,” Ryan said. “We have determined, based on our investigation, that we would be unable to meet our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Following the 2014 incident, the recommended safety measures included “installing barriers to cordon off the auction lanes and protect the pedestrians mingling and maneuvering between and around moving vehicles. Even though James Lamb signed the certification of corrective action worksheet and abatement letter on behalf of Lynnway in response to the 2014 incident, safety measures were not fully implemented,” the release said.
After the fatal crash, investigators looked into Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports and incident reports from the company. These indicated that workers had been injured due to “unsafe conditions” and hit by vehicles in the past. The company had been told not to hire unlicensed drivers, but Ryan’s office alleges that the company didn’t follow through with this.
Billerica Deputy Police Chief Roy Frost indicated that both the department, as well as state police, helped with the investigation, and he said he hopes for the victims’ families that this outcome “helps in some small fashion.”
Watch the full news conference: