A Loudoun Circuit Court jury today began hearing evidence in the involuntary manslaughter case against the driver of a food truck that crashed into a car filled with members of an Ashburn family, killing the mother.
Tony Steven Dane was indicted on five charges following the Sept. 8, 2017, crash at the intersection of Evergreen Mills Road and Watson Road south of Leesburg.
He is charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving, driving without an operator’s license (repeat offense), driving without insurance, and failure to get the vehicle inspected. The involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In court today, Dane’s attorneys said they would not contest the driver’s license, inspection or insurance charges. However, they will argue that the crash happened because of a brake failure and that Dane was helpless to avoid the crash.
County prosecutors said that Dane’s converted school bus had been poorly maintained and that he had noticed the brake problems well before the crash and was negligent in not getting the vehicle off the road before the crash happened.
The crash happened around 4:50 p.m. Sept. 8 when the Dane’s Great American Hamburger food truck was traveling east on Watson Road and ran the stop sign at the Evergreen Mills Road intersection. The bus hit a 2014 Audi station wagon traveling northbound on Evergreen Mills Road. The driver of the Audi, 39-year-old Erin T. Kaplan, died at the scene. Her mother and her three teenage children were airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital.
In his opening statement, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric M. Shamis described the converted school bus, mechanically, as “a complete disaster,” with dry-rotted tires, extensive rust and corrosion, a broken brake light, and a poor design that put most of the vehicle’s weight on the left side of the chassis. The vehicle had never been inspected in Virginia, Shamis said.
Those flaws may have been exacerbated by an improperly executed brake line replacement Dane did just a few days prior to the crash.
Dane was driving from Front Royal to Briar Woods High School to serve food during the homecoming festivities. He told investigators that the brakes began to feel “spongy” when he got to Middleburg.
The brakes failed completely when he came upon a stopped school bus on Watson Road. Instead of stopping, the truck picked up speed and he passed the bus on the left in the oncoming traffic lane, narrowly missing two students who were preparing to cross the street in front of the bus. The jury was shown video footage of the food truck passing the school bus as a red blur. That was just moments before the fatal crash.
“When I tried to stop, the brakes went right to the floorboard,” Dane told an investigator in a taped interview that was heard by the jury.
The jury watched a 20-minute video of the drive from Middleburg to the Watson Road/Evergreen Mills Road intersection, recorded on the dash camera of a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office crash investigator, who served as a witness for the prosecution.
Shamis asked the investigator to point out the gas stations, parking lots, and open fields along the route, where, he argued, Dane could have stopped the bus. Shamis said Dane should have pulled over after first detecting the brake problems in Middleburg, but he was too focused on “making a buck” selling food at the school. He urged the jury to “hold Tony Dane accountable for all the things he didn’t care about on Sept. 8, 2017.”
The trial is scheduled for three days.