The owner of a Massachusetts auto auction where five people were killed when a vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver plowed into a crowd two years ago has pleaded not guilty to five counts of manslaughter.
James Lamb, owner and president of the Lynnway Auto Auction in Billerica, was released on personal recognizance after his arraignment Thursday in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn.
Prosecutors say the 67-year-old hired unlicensed drivers despite being told not to, and failed to make necessary safety upgrades as required.
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Brenda Lopez, 48, of Providence, Rhode Island and Pantaleon Santos, 49, of Cumberland, Rhode Island, were pronounced dead when a Jeep Grand Cherokee accelerated into a crowd May 3, 2017.
Over the next several days, Leezandra Aponte, 36, of Lowell; Ruben Espaillat, 55, of Methuen; and Elliott Rowlands Jr., 50, of Bourne, also died. Seven people were injured.
Charges against Lamb and the company were announced in March after an investigation determined the president failed to keep employees safe since he was aware of shortfalls in safety measures. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said the company failed to ensure all of its drivers were properly licensed and trained.
Lamb's attorney, Hank Brennan, said outside court that the company "took every safety measure known" to protect customers and workers.
"Before this accident, Mr. Lamb and Lynnway Auto took every safety measure known in the community in the standards in that industry to protect not only the customers, the unfortunate victims, his family who works on the floor and friends and neighbors," said Brennan.
The 76-year-old driver who crashed the vehicle, Roger Hartwell, will not face criminal charges. Although he was operating the vehicle with an expired license, Massachusetts law allows individuals to drive on private property.
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.
Claudia Santos, the daughter of Pantaleon Santos, spoke about her father outside of court.
"He was a really happy man and loved his grandkids. He had 7 grandkids," she said. "He was a happy man, hardworking also."
"I just want justice, that's it," added Claudia's brother.
Lamb is due back in court July 11.