Metro

Fourth person dies in Billerica auction crash

Roger Hartwell, the driver in the fatal Billerica auto auction crash, was found to be at fault in seven other wrecks, which occured in Weymouth, Quincy, and Milton at various times since 1985.
Associated Press
Roger Hartwell, the driver in the fatal Billerica auto auction crash, was found to be at fault in seven other wrecks, which occured in Weymouth, Quincy, and Milton at various times since 1985.

The driver who fatally struck four people at a Billerica auto auction has had seven car accidents in the past 30 years, Registry of Motor Vehicles records show.

Roger Hartwell was found to be at fault in seven crashes, which occurred in Weymouth, Quincy, and Milton at various times since 1985, according to the records. The most recent incident was in Quincy during the summer of 2006.

Last week, the 76-year-old was behind the wheel of a Jeep Grand Cherokee when it suddenly lurched forward and accelerated into the crowd at the Lynnway Auto Auction. It sped across the warehouse floor before crashing into a cinderblock wall.

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Three of the people killed were identified as Brenda Lopez, 48, of Providence; Pantaleon Santos, 49, of Cumberland, R.I.; and Leezandra Aponte, 36, of Lowell. On Wednesday, authorities said that a fourth victim, Elliott Rowlands Jr., 50, of Buzzards Bay, had died. Nine others were injured.

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Lynnway Auto president Jim Lamb offered condolences to Rowlands’s family.

“We want to extend those thoughts to the family of Mr. Rowlands, who passed away today from his injuries,” Lamb said. “Our prayers and condolences are with them and all of those who have been impacted by the accident.”

Hartwell has not been charged with a crime, and authorities have not identified him. He was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash.

In a phone interview, the driver said he had been told not to discuss the crash but said his driving records may not be accurate because of computer errors. He also said he hoped the investigation would determine what caused the crash.

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“I want the truth to come out,” he said.

Authorities say the crash appeared to be an accident. A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office declined to comment on whether the driver would face charges, citing the ongoing investigation.

On Friday, Lynnway Auto Auction officials said that police had informed them the driver had a suspended license. Company officials said his license was valid when they hired him in 2010, and that they expected employees to inform them about any suspensions.

Lamb said last week that the company holds “our drivers to a high standard.”

“If a driver loses the ability to drive in Massachusetts for any reason, we would expect them to inform us, and we would not allow them to drive on our property unless they hold a valid driver’s license,” he said in a statement.

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Hartwell’s license had been suspended several times over the years, according to his driving record. In 2011 alone, he was cited four times for having an invalid inspection sticker. His license was last suspended in 2012, and it expired in 2014.

He was never cited for speeding, records show.

After the Billerica crash, the Registry revoked his driver’s license and marked him as an “immediate threat.”

His driving record was first reported by WCVB-TV (Channel 5).

In light of the fatal crash, car dealers who attend auctions have raised questions about their safety, given the close proximity of moving cars and large crowds. In 2015, a similar crash at a Framingham auction house left several injured, and the company installed safety barriers in response.

The Lynnway Auto Auction has been cited for safety violations in the past. In 2014, OSHA cited the company for “serious” violations of workplace safety rules after an inspection found it “failed to require the use of traffic control devices while employees performed maintenance tasks among moving vehicles.”

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, the worker involved in that incident accused the company of negligence. He alleged he was injured during an overnight shift by a car that was driven by an unlicensed driver, according to his lawyer, Richard Shalhoub.

“It was an accident waiting to happen in 2014, and it was an accident waiting to happen here last week,” Shalhoub said.

The Lynnway Auto Auction said it will install temporary barriers between lanes in the showroom during auctions and will add sturdier divides in the future. The company also said it hired more first responders to work the weekly auction, which draws hundreds of customers.

The company pledged to reinforce safety practices with its drivers and donate a portion of auction proceeds to the families of people who were killed or injured in the crash.

“Before Lynnway Auto’s auction begins [Wednesday] morning there will be a prayer service for those who were killed or injured during last week’s tragic accident,’’ the company said in a statement.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.