Steven Jalbert’s a mechanic at A.J.’s Sunoco in Barre, Vermont. Last year he put an inspection sticker on Donald Ibey’s 1992 Chevy Corsica. Two months later the car was involved in a crash that killed Ibey’s wife Elizabeth. As a result Jalbert’s been brought up on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment and could face up to 16 years in prison.
It’s a messy story of the law versus common sense versus the pros and cons of lackadaisical code enforcement and I’m not sure how to feel about it.
As The Burlington Free Press reports:
April 2014: 86-year-old Donald Ibey brought his ‘92 Corsica to the Sunoco where Jalbert replaced one brake line but noticed the others didn’t look good, showing serious rust and corrosion.
Three weeks later Ibey brings the same car back for a state inspection, and Jalbert gives it a sticker. In light of the crash, Vermont DMV Lt. Tim Charland alleges that Jalbert didn’t perform the complete state inspection including a brake test, test drive and other requirements in the Vermont DMV Inspection Manual.
A manual Jalbert didn’t use, according to the newspaper:
During a September 25, 2014, interview, Jalbert said he never placed the car on a lift while doing the May 2014 inspection and he never took it for a test drive before putting the sticker on, Charland said.
Jalbert also said he never removed a tire to check the braking components and he never conducted — and was unaware — that was expected to conduct a 150 pounds per square inch brake test.
[...] Jalbert maintained the service station never received the 2013 inspection manual from the Vermont DMV. When Evans and Charland asked him and his father to double check. As the Jalberts rummaged through a cabinet, Charland said he spotted a yellow envelope from DMV. He asked them to open the envelope and they removed an unused inspection manual.
July 5, 2014: About two months and 400 miles after getting that sticker, Donald and his 82-year-old-wife wife Elizabeth are driving when “he heard a pop” according to local police. At this point the car “continued out of control” and crashed, resulting in Elizabeth’s death.
The investigation has been ongoing since then, and extrapolating the Chevy Corsica’s pre-crash condition, the Vermont DMV thinks the crash is Jalbert’s fault for putting an inspection sticker on such an unsafe machine, the story says.
Maglaris, the state’s expert mechanic, said, based on the age and condition of the car he suspected, the lower rocker panel/frame rails were most likely rotted away,” Charland wrote. The rot would have forced the engine into the passenger compartment during the crash instead of forcing it downward, Maglaris reported.
When the car was put on a lift, Maglaris reported the brakes failed to function and the pedal had no tension, Charland said.
“We observed extensive rust, corrosion and deterioration to the vehicle right and lift side, rocker panels/frame rails,” Charland wrote. The condition “significantly reduced the structural integrity of the vehicle to withstand a front-end collision,” he wrote.
It seems pretty clear, according to the claims made by police, that Jalbert did not do his job to the letter of the law here, but drawing a line straight from that to Elizabeth Ibey’s death doesn’t feel right to me.
Was this 23-year-old economy car up to Vermont’s state inspection standards? Maybe not. I spent four years living in that great state and I’m pretty comfortable saying any car old enough to graduate elementary school would not pass a “complete” state inspection.
A ‘92 Corsica wasn’t all that great when it was new. Add a lifetime of Vermont road salt and you’ve got yourself all the ingredients for a nice beige deathtrap. Then there’s that bit about Ibey declining a complete brake service.
On the surface it seems pretty cut-and-dry; Jalbert’s the expert in this context, he deemed the car roadworthy and apparently it wasn’t. I guess it’s just easy for me to put myself in the mechanic’s shoes here. They’re in a rural setting, it seems like Ibey’s a regular customer, he only drove 383 miles over a two-month period, so it seems clear he doesn’t travel far or often.
“What’s the harm in letting the old man keep his car on the road?”
This time the harm was tragic. But as I mentioned earlier, every car in rural Vermont is cratered with rust holes. Many residents aren’t in a position to replace or repair them often enough to satisfy the law, and I bet those people are happy to have inspection stations ignore some of their vehicle’s faults for the sake of convenience and saving money.
No amount of pleading is going to get much leniency out of an inspection mechanic who’s heard this story, even if your car’s “only driven to the beach on Sundays.”
Image from a dark corner of Chevrolet’s press files. A similar-but-not-the-same car as the ‘92 Corsica in this story. A.J.’s Sunoco image via Google.
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