An Islandia sanitation company put profit before safety last June when it failed to replace faulty brakes on a truck before it tipped over and crushed a Fort Salonga woman as she drove to work, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Thursday.
"But for the cost of a brake job, a mother of two would be alive today," Spota said outside a Riverhead courtroom after Jet Sanitation Service Inc. and one of its drivers were charged with criminally negligent homicide. "But instead, Jet Sanitation decided to save some money instead of protecting the safety of the public."
Through their attorneys, Jet Sanitation and the driver, Robert Moore, 50, of Ridge, pleaded not guilty Thursday before Judge James Hudson in Suffolk County Court.
Hudson unsealed a 12-count indictment in which a Suffolk grand jury charged Moore, the driver, and the company with failing to properly maintain a 2008 Mack garbage truck that tipped over in East Northport on June 29, killing Deborah Shavalier, 56, a vice president of financial planning at 1-800-FLOWERS in Carle Place.
Shavalier's Honda Civic was crushed when the truck tipped as it swerved to avoid hitting cars after its brakes failed at the intersection of Pulaski and Bread and Cheese Hollow roads. Moore was injured in the crash.
Moore faces a maximum prison sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years. The company faces fines, which would be determined by a judge.
Spota told reporters Moore had reported a problem to supervisors only five days before the crash, but the brake was fixed, not replaced. "They were more concerned about profits" than safety, he said.
An attorney for Jet Sanitation, Ray Perini of Hauppauge, told reporters the brakes did not require replacement. He denied financial reasons were behind the company's decision not to replace the brakes.
"That's absolutely ridiculous," Perini said.
Moore and his attorney, Frank Fineo of Woodbury, declined to comment as they left court.
Spota said Moore was charged because "the grand jury obviously felt the driver knew or should have known" the truck had a brake problem, and he failed to lower the fourth axle for added stability when the trash-laden truck weighed 74,450 pounds - far more than the legal limit of 50,000 pounds.
Tests by police investigators "showed that not using the extra axle further contributed to the truck failing to stop before reaching the intersection," said Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Spota.
"I'm not surprised that they found defective brakes on the truck and are being indicted," Moore said. "Speeding, overweight trucks and many that have [equipment] violations are an issue on that road."
In a statement, Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said police conducted 53 separate enforcement actions last year on Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, with 174 trucks inspected and 342 tickets issued.
"We are taking this issue very seriously," Dormer said.
Christopher McGrath of Mineola, an attorney for Shavalier's husband, David James, a professor at York College in Jamaica, Queens, and their two college-age children, said the family has sued the company and Moore, alleging Shavalier suffered "pre-impact terror." The family did not attend the arraignments.
"They cry every day," McGrath said. "The children have no mother. The husband has no wife. They were a close family. . . . It didn't have to happen." With Deborah Morris