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Mechanic Failed to Fix Brakes - Convicted of Reckless Endangering and Manslaughter After Accident

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A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court decision considered whether sufficient evidence was presented to support a mechanic's convictions of Recklessly Endangering Another Person and Involuntary Manslaughter after the mechanic allegedly failed to fix brakes on a van. In the case, captioned Commonwealth v.  Fabian, the mechanic worked for a company that transported students in vans to and from school.  A driver for the company noticed problems with the brakes of a van when she was driving her morning route and transporting two special needs children in Pittsburgh, and the driver informed her superiors of the faulty brakes.  The mechanic was told to inspect the brakes on the van and make any necessary repairs.  The mechanic claims to have addressed the brake problems, and the van was released to the driver for the afternoon pickup pickup.  Regrettably, while the driver was tranporting the two special needs kids and one aide from the school, the brakes failed while traveling down a steep Pittsburgh hill.  The van slammed into a tree, and the crash resulted in the death of the aide and injuries to the remaining passengers.

Police Crash Investigation - Faulty Brakes

After the accident, police investigators reviewed the repair report prepared by the mechanic and physically inspected the van. The investigation led the police to conclude that the mechanic had lied about calibrating the brakes and had failed to truly investigate the problem by pulling the brake drums. After removing the two rear brake drums, inspectors found that the left side brakes did not function at all, and the right side had a crack in it as it was forced to over compensate for the malfunctioning left side. The inspectors later testified that the van should have never been permitted to leave the garage.

Mechanic Charged With Recklessly Endangering and Involuntary Manslaughter

The mechanic was charged with one count of Involuntary Manslaughter related to the death of the aide and four counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person related to the injuries caused to all four passengers. A charge of Involuntary Manslaughter, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504(a), requires proof that as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly  negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, a person causes the death of another person. A charge of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 2705, provides that a "person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury." Both charges can require that a person acts "recklessly," and recklessly is legally defined as consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustified risk that something will happen. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that it involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor's situation.

Conviction and Appeal - Insufficient Evidence Argument

The mechanic's case proceeded to a trial, and he was convicted of four counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person and one count of Involuntary Manslaughter. The court imposed a sentence of incarceration of 2 ½ to 5 years followed by 5 years of probation. The mechanic filed an appeal with the Superior Court and argued that the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence that he acted "recklessly" or that his actions "caused" the accident. With regard to acting "recklessly," the appellate court had no difficulty in finding a reasonable person would have removed the rear brake drums in response to a report that the brakes were malfunctioning, and the mechanic's failure to do so was criminally negligent and thereby reckless. The court also stated that the mechanic's actions were the "cause" of the accident to support the Involuntary Manslaughter conviction. The Superior Court affirmed the man's conviction, meaning the court denied the appeal.

The moral of the story is that you should always perform your job to the best of your ability, especially if you are an employee of this State College criminal defense lawyer, and, if your job involves the safety and well-being of others, a failure to adequately do your job could result in the filing of criminal charges.

1 Comment

This is a wonderfully written article & very insightful on the different levels of mens rea or intent needed to be convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania. However, as a criminal defense attorney, I'm shocked at the outcome. While the mechanic was clearly negligent, it does not appear to rise to the level of gross negligence. I do, however, think that his lying about what actions he took, greatly contributed to the outcome as it demonstrates a guilty conscious that no doubt was argued by the prosecutor at trial. Great job and keep up the good work. I look forward to reading future posts.

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