November 13, 2017 at 6:29 PM
The driver of a food truck involved in a fatal car crash two months ago in Northern Virginia has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Tony Steven Dane was also charged with reckless driving, driving without a license and insurance, and failure to have a vehicle inspected in connection with the Sept. 8 crash that killed Erin Kaplan, 39, and injured her three children and her mother.
A grand jury delivered the indictment Monday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman for the commonwealth's attorney for Loudoun County.
Reached through his attorney, Dane, 56, declined to comment.
Kaplan's husband said the charges came as a relief.
"I'm happy to see the investigation has been completed and that the commonwealth is supporting charges against Tony Dane," said Faran Kaplan, 40. "There is definitely not closure yet, but I think it helps bring us to the next chapter."
The incident occurred about 4:50 p.m. Sept. 8 when Dane's Great American Hamburger food truck ran a stop sign at the intersection of Watson Road and Evergreen Mills Road near Leesburg, authorities said.
The bright red food truck — a converted school bus weighing 10 tons — slammed into the side of Erin Kaplan's Audi station wagon as she drove her 17-year-old son to work.
Dane, who owns the food truck, told investigators the vehicle's brakes failed, according to a search warrant affidavit. He said he maneuvered around a school bus and thought about driving the food truck into a ditch. But his 16-year-old son and one of his son's friends were on board and were not wearing seat belts. The three suffered "serious but not life threatening injuries," according to the affidavit.
Faulty brakes are mentioned in the indictment, which accuses Dane of driving a vehicle "not under proper control or which had inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes."
Kaplan's car was crumpled in the crash. First responders worked for three hours to extricate her and her family, sawing through twisted aluminum as helicopters arrived to take survivors to the hospital.
Rescue workers were able to save Kaplan's children and her mother, who was in the passenger seat, but not Kaplan herself; she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The charges in Loudoun County are not the only ones pending against Dane, a conservative activist who once ran for the Nevada state legislature.
Last year, Dane was charged with 11 felonies in Clark County, Nev., for allegedly pressuring a Republican legislator to change his vote for speaker of the state's assembly. Dane pleaded not guilty to the charges, which included extortion, illegal wiretapping, perjury and filing a false document.
The two cases are indirectly linked, according to Don P. Chairez, an attorney representing Dane in the Nevada case, which is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Dane made his living by conducting robo-calls, Chairez said. When Dane was indicted in 2016, his clients dropped him.
"Tony had to figure out a way to support his family. That's why he set up the food truck business," Chairez said.
According to his website, Dane originally bought the school bus "to travel the country" with his wife but later decided to turn it into a "rolling diner."
Chairez said he is not representing Dane in the Virginia car crash case but had spoken to him about what happened.
"I think he was traumatized as a result of this accident," Chairez said. "He says he has difficulty sleeping. He feels for the family. At any rate, he says, 'Why would I have my own son in the car and be driving recklessly?' It just doesn't make sense. This was an accident. The brakes failed, and there was nothing he could do to control it."
"Somebody died and I think the commonwealth attorney feels an obligation to do something to try to punish somebody," he continued. "But is Tony a dangerous, reckless person? No. Is he a danger to the community? No. Does he want to hurt people? No."
The Kaplans are still recovering from the crash. Benjamin, 17, suffered a fractured skull, arm and legs. He was recently moved from Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va., to a rehabilitation center in Baltimore.
His sisters, Sophia, 11, and Emma, 13, suffered multiple broken limbs but have returned to school. AGoFundMe account for the family has raised more than $135,000.
Dane is due to appear in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Tuesday morning, when a judge will consider whether to grant him bond.
Faran Kaplan said he planned on being there.
"I need to look this dude in the face," he said. "I need to see if he's sorry."