I often work on co-worker’s cars in the BRAKE & FRONT END company garage. Some of the pictures that you see in this magazine are taken while I am working on their cars. Usually, beer and a home-cooked meal are all that I ask for in return for my work. But, a recent case in New York has me rethinking performing work on co-worker’s cars, or even giving them advice.
Here is the case in a nutshell. A 1989 Ford Tempo was bought for $175. The vehicle was then taken to a shop and the brakes were inspected as part of a state inspection program. After the inspection, the young driver had some work performed on the brakes by a friend or backyard mechanic. One day, the driver was descending a hill and was unable to stop for a school bus at the bottom. Tragically, he struck and killed a child as she was exiting the bus. This past December, the 17-year-old driver was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
But, the shocker came when criminal charges were filed against the shop manager who performed the inspection. The shop manager was charged with criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment in the 2nd degree, and falsifying business records in the 2nd degree.
I am not talking about a civil lawsuit that is looking for deep pockets. I am talking about criminal charges with the potential for prison time for the shop manager.
The state of New York has a mandatory annual state inspection and a required inspection when the title changes hands. The inspection requires that at least one wheel be removed from the vehicle for a brake check. It is a basic check that covers the mechanical and hydraulic systems.
The driver maintained that the vehicle’s brakes were not functioning at the time of the accident, and that he swerved to the right to avoid rear-ending the car behind the bus.
No information has been released revealing if the brakes suffered a hydraulic or mechanical failure. Also, it is not clear if the car suffered “brake fade.” But, it has been revealed that the driver had some work performed by another mechanic and that the driver added brake fluid on one or more occasions.
I hate jumping to conclusions. But, in my opinion it is not the fault of the person who inspected the vehicle.
The driver has to take responsibility for his actions. The driver should have known the performance capabilities of the brakes before he crested that hill. Also, the parents of the driver should have known their son’s driving capabilities before they put him behind the wheel of a $175 clunker.
But, the district attorney in this case sees it differently. In the local paper, he gave his version of where the responsibility lies.
“The shop owner was responsible for ensuring that vehicle was safe to operate on the highway,” District Attorney Donald Cerio said. “The shop owner failed to perform a competent exam. That put into motion the ability of the subsequent owner to operate the vehicle.”
It is only human nature to want to place blame on someone after a tragedy. It is also human nature to avoid responsibility for negative actions. But, the district attorney is taking the blame game too far this time.
The local prosecutor initially wanted to put the driver and the shop manager on trial together, but they have been granted separate trials. At the time of writing this, the trial was scheduled to start in mid-February. I will tell you the results of the trial in the March issue of BRAKE & FRONT END.
But, this whole incident has me reconsidering performing work on fellow employees’ vehicles. It seems that the “Beer and a Home Cooked Meal” garage is closed for now.