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Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/23/07
BY FRAIDY REISS
TOMS RIVER BUREAU
JACKSON — A landscaping company has been served four summonses for unsafe equipment stemming from a March 9 crash on East Commodore Boulevard in which a trailer dislodged from one of the company's dump trucks and plowed into a school minibus, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office confirmed Thursday.
Belmar Borough Councilman William Merkler, one of the owners of the landscaping company, referred all questions to attorney William J. Shipers, who said the company denies any wrongdoing.
The bus driver, Susan Kaiser, 58, of Lakehurst, was seriously injured in the crash, police said. Four children and an aide aboard suffered minor injuries, police said. Kaiser was released from the hospital Thursday. Further information about her condition was not available.
The summonses issued Monday by the State Police Transportation Safety Bureau allege "serious" equipment violations that show the truck and trailer were unsafe and that raise questions about recklessness on the part of Down To Earth Landscaping, based in Jackson, Senior Assistant Prosecutor Steven Janosko said.
The State Police, Prosecutor's Office and Jackson police are continuing a criminal investigation, he said.
"This was not a freak event," Janosko said. "This was an accident waiting to happen."
"Down To Earth Landscaping was unaware of any mechanical defect to the vehicles on the day of the accident," Shipers, the company attorney, said. "Down To Earth continues to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the happening of the unfortunate accident."
One summons cited the Jackson-based company for failure to inspect and maintain parts. Specifically, according to the summons, the truck's trailer hitch was worn and unable to lock securely to the ball of the trailer.
The truck also lacked proper safety chains, designed to work as a backup in case the hitch fails, said Janosko.
Additionally, police charge the trailer did not have functional brakes. "Trailers are provided with brakes for safety reasons, not for the heck of it," Janosko said.
The final summons referred to unsecured equipment in the bed of the dump truck. If that equipment moved around, it could have helped dislodge the trailer, Janosko said.
Each of the violations is "substantial" on its own, Janosko said. When combined, the four violations could cause the kind of crash that occurred March 9, he said.
"You put a vehicle on the road in this condition, and there's the potential for criminal liability as well as civil liability," Janosko said.
Not an N.J. license
Investigators are looking into why the truck driver involved in the crash — whose driver's license reads Albino Rufino but whom the company attorney referred to as Albino Lazaro — holds a recently issued license from Washington state, Janosko said.
Shipers, the attorney, said he could not explain the license or the discrepancy in names.
Down To Earth Landscaping serves much of New Jersey and several surrounding states, and employs more than 200 people during peak season, Shipers has said.
Kaiser was driving four special-needs students and an aide to Elms Elementary School that morning when Down To Earth's Hydro Mulch trailer dislodged, crossed into oncoming traffic and slammed into the minibus, police have said.
Kaiser was flown to Jersey Shore University Medical Center with two broken femurs and two broken ankles, police said.
Fraidy Reiss: (732) 557-5735 or firstname.lastname@example.org