The driver who crashed a poorly-maintained food truck into a family car and killed Erin T. Kaplan last September will spend more than 10 years in prison.
In Loudoun County Circuit Court today, Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick imposed the full verdict set by a jury following a two-day trial in March.
The jury issued guilty verdicts on five charges against Tony Dane, 57, and recommended he serve 10 years in prison, 18 months in jail and pay $3,500 in fines. However, the commonwealth’s sentencing guidelines called for Dane to serve far less time behind bars—as little as 11 months in jail and as much as 2 years and 11 months in prison. The guidelines use a formula that considers the severity of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
County prosecutors urged Kendrick to fully impose the jury sentence, saying jurors took into account the evidence that showed Dane acted with gross negligence and utter disregard for public safety when failing to have his food truck inspected and then continuing to drive after the brakes on the converted Thomas bus showed signs of failure just before the fatal crash.
“This was never a guidelines case,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric M. Shamis said. “They chose to give him the maximum or close to the maximum on all these charges.”
Dane and his attorney asked for a lesser sentence, one that would allow him to work and make some amends to the Kaplan family.
Addressing the judge, Dane highlighted his devotion to Christianity and history of volunteer work.
“My goal in life was to be a positive influence in my community,” Dane said. “I could have never imagined the chain of events that happened.”
“There is no way to make this right. Only God can do that,” Dane said, adding that he wanted the opportunity “to do whatever I can to make things better.”
Kendrick agreed with prosecutors that the jury’s sentence reflected the values of the community and was “just, right and proper.”
Dane is expected to file an appeal challenging the sentence.
On Sept. 8, 2017, Dane was driving the Dane’s Great American Hamburger food truck from Front Royal to Briar Woods High School to serve food during the homecoming festivities when the crash occurred. During the drive, he noticed the brakes were becoming “spongy,” but decided to continue to the school. Going downhill on Watson Road, the brakes failed and the food truck sped past a school bus that had stopped to let students exit and ran the stop sign at the Evergreen Mills Road intersection. There, the bus hit a 2014 Audi station wagon traveling northbound on Evergreen Mills Road. Erin Kaplan, 39, the driver of the Audi, died at the scene. Her mother and her three teenage children were airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Erin Kaplan’s husband, Faran, attended the sentencing hearing, but did not comment on the case. A family spokesman said the Kaplan’s continue to be appreciative of the community’s support. In addition to helping their children recover from the physical and emotional injuries resulting from the crash, he said the family is focused on working with the Loudoun County School Board and other school boards around Virginia to ensure that food trucks allowed at their events are safe—that they are inspected mechanically, for their food service and properly insured.
Dane was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving, driving without an operator’s license (repeat offense), driving without insurance, and failure to get the vehicle inspected. The jurors recommended a 10-year prison sentence on the involuntary manslaughter conviction; 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine for reckless driving; six months in jail for being convicted of driving without a license for a second time; and $500 fines for operating a vehicle without insurance and for failure to have a vehicle inspected.