Federal judge in Virginia dismisses appeal in fatal food truck crash

A federal judge in Virginia has dismissed an appeal from the owner of a poorly maintained food truck involved in a 2017 crash that killed a Loudoun County mother and seriously injured her three children and her mother.

Tony Dane, who’s serving 10 years for involuntary manslaughter, claimed in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, that his constitutional rights to due process and an effective lawyer were violated at his trial and during his earlier appeals in state court.

In a March 9 opinion, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga said nothing Dane claimed in the writ rises to the level of overturning the conviction for involuntary manslaughter or his sentence; his release date remains July 2027.

Dane was behind the wheel of an aging 40-foot school bus that had been converted into the “Great American Hamburger” food truck on his way to a football stadium in Ashburn, Virginia, to sell food in September 2017 when the poorly maintained brakes failed and he blew through a stop sign at Watson Road and Evergreen Mills Roads.

The food truck crashed into the car carrying 39-year-old Erin Kaplan and her family.

Kaplan died in the crash.

Dane later told a Loudoun County detective his brakes, which he had attempted to repair a few days before the crash, felt “spongy” and something “didn’t feel right,” yet he continued his trip from Front Royal to the football stadium.

In addition to the poorly maintained brakes, authorities said they identified several other “potentially hazardous deficiencies” involving the food truck, including unbalanced weight, poor tire conditions, inoperable brake lights and significant rust on the underside of the bus. They said the food truck had never undergone a state safety inspection in Virginia.

Dane was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and four misdemeanors, including operating a vehicle without a license, operating an uninsured vehicle and reckless driving.

Dane has previously filed a number of failed appeals in Virginia’s courts challenging his conviction, arguing his lawyer hadn’t consulted with a pathologist or medical expert to determine the cause of Kaplan’s death and choosing to not consult an expert on the mechanics of the food truck.

The Loudoun County Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Virginia have all upheld Dane’s conviction and sentence. Virginia’s Supreme Court denied his appeal in February 2020.

In an opinion that is summarized in the latest federal court’s opinion, the Court of Appeals concluded: “The totality of the evidence presented in this case objectively establishes that (Dane’s) negligence was so gross, wanton and culpable as to show ‘callous disregard of human life.'”

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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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