Test drive tragedy: A routine car test drive turned deadly

How excessive speed and a car salesman under the influence of alcohol and drugs led to the death of a customer, devastating two families.

For a Lancaster County man, it was to be an enjoyable day spent taking his son out to local car dealerships to help him test drive various cars so they could choose one to buy.

Instead, it became a horrific nightmare when the man was killed after a car salesman chose to show off the high-performance capabilities of a car on a country road and flipped it at high speed.

The crash happened on Dec. 30, 2010, killing Chris Jensen of Leola, Pa., a small town in central Lancaster County, north of Lancaster City. His son, Tyler, was badly injured but survived when the Mitsubishi sports car rolled over several times on the rural roadway in East Hempfield Township. The car salesman also survived the incident. Chris Jensen, 48, was thrown from the car and died at the scene after suffering severe head injuries.

A rural road in Lancaster County, similar to the one where the crash occurred that killed Chris Jensen on Dec. 30, 2010.  Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/aimintang

A rural road in Lancaster County, similar to the one where the crash occurred that killed Chris Jensen on Dec. 30, 2010. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/aimintang

More than a year after the deadly crash, the car salesman who was at the wheel, Michael D. Hershey, 49, pleaded guilty this week in Lancaster County Court to charges of homicide by vehicle, DUI, reckless endangerment and a speeding violation, according to a story in the (Lancaster) Intelligencer Journal/New Era newspaper.

The car salesman will face a maximum prison sentence of 14 years when he is sentenced on March 16, the story reported. He will serve at least one year in jail, under the law. The incident “was at least Hershey’s fourth DUI conviction,” the newspaper reported.

The crash occurred after Hershey took over the wheel following the initial test drive by Tyler Jensen, according to the police report. Hershey then had the younger Jensen pull over so Hershey could drive the car.

“Hershey took the wheel and told the Jensens he would show them ‘how it’s done,'” according to a police affidavit obtained by the newspaper. “Hershey raced at speeds up to 90 mph before a truck pulled into the Mitsubishi’s path and Hershey lost control of the car, according to the affidavit.”

Hershey had been drinking rum and was also under the influence of marijuana before the test drive, according to police interviews, the newspaper reported.

The Jensen family has filed a civil lawsuit that is still pending against Hershey, his former employer – the car dealership – and two other companies.

That civil suit will allow the family to sue for monetary damages in connection with the devastating crash that took the life of their son, father and brother.  That’s how the legal system works in this country. Beyond only prison sentences for people who hurt others, our legal system is built to allow victims of crimes or horrific accidents to sue to seek monetary damages for the harm that they have suffered.

Such damages are called “punitive damages” and are provided by a jury or judge to “punish” the defendants for the grievous harm they have inflicted.  Those monetary awards are provided beyond all other damages for actual injuries, medical bills, property damage and other expenses related to the case.

For this family, such monetary damages will certainly not bring back their loved one, but the award will serve to put the defendants on notice that their bad actions are not to be tolerated by our society.

These principles are the basis for the system of civil law that we have in the U.S.

If you or someone you love is seriously injured in an accident caused by someone else, knowing your legal rights and speaking with a qualified, compassionate and skilled legal team should be your first move to protect your legal options for the future.

No insurance company will protect and preserve your legal rights. It’s up to your legal team to be sure that you are compensated fairly when someone else hurts you or your loved ones. Choose that legal team wisely to ensure that your family’s interests are well-protected.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.