Judge rejects request to move trial in fatal Va. food truck crash

LEESBURG, Va. — Despite extensive news coverage of the September 2017 crash that killed a Loudoun County mother, a circuit court judge has denied food truck owner Tony Dane’s request for a change of venue.

Erin Kaplan, 39, of Ashburn, was killed as she drove northbound on Evergreen Mill Road. Her three children and mother were injured.

Dane, the owner and operator of the food truck, told sheriff’s investigators the brakes in his converted school bus were spongy, and he was unable to stop at the stop sign on Watson Road before he crashed into Kaplan’s car.

Dane was indicted in November on a charge of involuntary manslaughter — a felony — which carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison.

In addition, Dane was charged with driving without a license (2nd offense), operating an uninsured vehicle, reckless driving with bad brakes and failure to have a vehicle inspected.

Dane’s public defender, Adam Pouilliard, told judge Benjamin Kendrick in a hearing Tuesday the heavy local and network news coverage that occurred after the crash would make it impossible for Dane to get a fair trial.

However, assistant commonwealth’s attorneys Ryan Perry and Eric Shamis countered the U.S. Supreme Court determined that even if potential jurors have heard of a case, they “are not required to be ignorant of the facts.”

The judge sided with prosecutors.

“Just publicity, in and of itself is insufficient” to warrant a change of venue, Kendrick ruled. “I’m certain that able counsel is fully capable of finding any hidden bias,” during jury selection.

Dane’s attorneys also asked the court to rule inadmissible as evidence video showing Dane’s Great American Hamburger truck moments before the crash, speeding by a school bus stopped on Watson Road as children disembark.

Even though no child was injured in the video, Pouilliard said the near-miss would be prejudicial.

“It would be difficult for any parent to watch, and not have a heightened sense of concern,” the public defender said.

Prosecutor Perry said the video was an important piece of evidence.

“This basically proves the reckless driving charge,” Perry told the judge. “The defendant says it has to prove what happened a quarter-mile later (when the food truck crashed into Kaplan’s station wagon), but it doesn’t.”

The judge ruled the video could be played during the trial.

Dressed in an orange- and white-striped prison uniform and new black sneakers, Dane spoke quietly with his attorney but didn’t address the judge during the brief hearing.

Dane’s three-day trial is scheduled to begin March 19.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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