Truck Owner Pleads Guilty in 2005 Connecticut Crash

March 18, 2009

A Connecticut trucking company owner whose poorly maintained dump truck lost control and caused a fiery crash that killed four people in 2005 has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault charges.

David Wilcox, 73, entered the pleas as jury selection was set to begin in the case, which centered on his culpability for the pileup in Avon on July 29, 2005. The truck’s inexperienced driver and three commuters died and 11 others were injured.

Wilcox also was charged with insurance fraud, accused of trying to reinstate the dump truck’s lapsed liability coverage in the hours after the crash.

He pleaded no contest to that charge Monday and entered guilty pleas to four counts of second-degree manslaughter and five counts of first-degree assault.

Assistant State’s Attorney Dennis O’Connor said Wilcox equipped his trucks at Bloomfield-based American Crushing & Recycling with bald tires and bad brake parts; performed shoddy and sporadic maintenance; and allowed an inexperienced driver behind the wheel of the heavy dump truck.

“The bottom line was that the vehicle was found to be unsound, unsafe,” O’Connor said. “There was an apparent disregard, willful disregard, at American Trucking and Wilcox Trucking, for vehicle maintenance.”

O’Connor said Wilcox could not claim ignorance about the truck’s condition because he loaded it personally that morning and dispatched the driver, despite being warned about that truck’s bad brakes by the previous day’s driver.

Wilcox’s attorney, Ray Hassett, said his client is heartsick over the crash and will express his remorse at his sentencing.

Wilcox pleaded no contest to the insurance fraud charge because he strongly believes his liability coverage was in effect and wants to keep pursuing the claim to collect money for the crash victims, Hassett said.

“He wanted to bring closure to this matter today for everybody involved, including the victims, the victims’ families and his family as well,” Hassett said Monday. “He has a great deal of remorse over all of the facts and circumstances here, despite the way he’s been painted.”

Wilcox was arrested in 2006 after a yearlong investigation into the fatal crash, in which the truck shed brake and clutch parts as it careened down steep Avon Mountain and slammed into 19 vehicles at a stop light.

Killed in the crash were drivers Barbara Bongiovanni, 54, of Torrington; Maureen Edlund, 60, of Canton; Paul A. “Chip” Stotler, 42, of New Hartford; and the truck driver, Abdulraheem Naafi, 41, of Hartford.

Some of the victims were trapped in their burning vehicles or buried under mounds of dirt, tree trimmings and concrete that spilled from the overturned dump truck. Others were critically injured when the 19 vehicles, including a commuter bus, slammed into each other in the chaotic chain-reaction crash.

Family members of several victims were in court Monday, but they did not speak. Some indicated they would make public statements when Wilcox is sentenced. Wilcox did not speak in court other than to enter his pleas, and declined to comment afterward.

As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to drop several other charges pending against Wilcox, including evidence tampering, fabricating evidence, interfering with police and 23 motor vehicle violations.

Sentencing is set for June 24. Prosecutors plan to seek a 10-year sentence that would be suspended after Wilcox completes six years in prison, though Wilcox’s attorney will ask the judge to impose less time.

Court papers say Wilcox and his son, Shaun, “conspired to allow the operation of the vehicles,” specifically the truck involved in the accident, “despite its poor mechanical condition.”

Shaun Wilcox pleaded guilty last week to tampering with evidence and conspiring to tamper with evidence. David Wilcox’s wife, Donna, has pleaded no contest to attempted insurance fraud, attempted larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny.

Both are scheduled to be sentenced June 30.

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