AFTER THE TRAGEDY

Fatal crash puts auction safety back in spotlight

"It was almost like a bomb. The whole place just went silent." Randy Miller, an auction attendee told WCVB-TV Photo credit: WBZ-TV CBS BOSTON

A deadly crash at a Massachusetts auto auction has brought a recurring question back into the spotlight: How can bustling, cramped auctions be kept safe?

Three people were killed and nine were hospitalized with serious injuries as a result of the crash last week at Lynnway Auto Auction Inc. in North Billerica, Mass., about 25 miles northwest of Boston.

Police say an employee, identified by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan as in his 70s, was driving a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee in an auction lane when the vehicle suddenly accelerated to "a very high rate of speed," striking several attendees before crashing through a concrete wall.

A preliminary investigation revealed no evidence of an intentional act or terrorism, police said. As of press time, the cause of the crash was unclear.

The crash has raised questions among some about safety at auto auctions, where hundreds of dealers and others mingle in close proximity to vehicles that continually drive through several lanes throughout the auction day.

Over the past few years, the National Auto Auction Association, of which Lynnway is a member, has tried to address those concerns through safety training and awards programs designed to reward auctions with high safety standards.

NAAA President Jerry Hinton told Automotive News last year that safety was a top priority for the auction group, citing the implementation of a program created by KAR Auction Services Inc. as a standard across the association's membership.

The training program is designed to teach auctions how to prevent and deal with situations ranging from distracted attendees walking into vehicle lanes, to higher-risk situations, including even an active shooter on auction property. Hinton pledged to have 12,000 auction employees certified as having completed the safety program by the end of 2016.

"A lot of auctions like Manheim created their own safety elements, but this dovetails together to provide a lot of [independently owned auction companies] with something that would have been very costly to develop themselves," Hinton said in the October interview.

A voicemail left for Hinton seeking comment for this article was not returned. NAAA CEO Frank Hackett declined to comment for this article, citing the sensitive nature of the crash and the ongoing police investigation.

The crash at Lynnway Auto Auction led to three deaths and numerous injuries. Photo credit: WBZ-TV CBS BOSTON

The crash occurred during Lynn-way's weekly Wednesday dealer auction, which Ryan said "several hundred" people attended. 

A witness told WCVB-TV in Boston that the driver "avoided the cars and went on to hit the people standing between the cars." 

"Three [men] were on the ground being tended to," Lynnway employee Woody Tuttle told WCVB. "There was a woman who was crying, but she was standing up, and I saw two men on the ground who appeared to be dead." 

The driver crashing through the wall sounded like "an explosion," another witness said. 

"It was almost like a bomb," auction attendee Randy Miller told WCVB. "The whole place just went silent. There were people just lying on the ground -- a horrific, crazy, tragic situation."

You can reach John Irwin at jirwin@crain.com -- Follow John on Twitter: @JohnDIrwin

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