Lawsuit Filed In Fatal Test Drive

A civil lawsuit has been filed in the case of a salesman behind the wheel of a sports car in a harrowing high-speed test drive that killed a father and injured his teenage son.

Jon Christian “Chris” Jensen, of Leola, died in the December crash in East Hempfield Township. Car salesman Michael D. Hershey allegedly consumed alcohol before the crash and had marijuana in his system.

The lawsuit describes Chris Jensen’s head injuries as so severe his 19-year-old son Tyler did not recognize him. It also recalls the son’s “severe emotional distress,” brought on in part by witnessing his father being placed in a body bag.

The 12-count civil lawsuit filed June 13 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $600,000 from four defendants.

The Jensen family’s attorneys, Robert J. Mongeluzzi and David L. Kwass, of the Philadelphia firm Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, filed the lawsuit.

Jensen lawsuit (PDF)

Named as defendants are:

  • Hershey, 48, of Landisville, a car salesman with Imports of Lancaster County at the time of the crash
  • Imports of Lancaster County, 5471 Manheim Pike, East Petersburg
  • Landyshade Mulch Products, 1801 Colebrook Road
  • Mitsubishi Motors, Cypress, Calif.

The crash happened just before 5 p.m. Dec. 30, in the 1600 block of Colebrook Road.

Hershey was test-driving a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for Jensen and his son, a student at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colo., who was in town for the holidays.

Tyler Jensen drove the car off the dealership lot. But according to Hershey’s arrest warrant affidavit, the car salesman insisted on switching drivers so he could show the Jensens “how it’s done.”

The two-lane road has a speed limit of 35 mph in that area. Hershey accelerated to an estimated 80 to 100 mph, swerved to miss a Landyshade Mulch Products truck, and crashed, the affidavit states.

Chris Jensen, who was in the back seat, was thrown from the car and died. Tyler Jensen, who sat in the front passenger seat, was injured.

Chris Jensen, a 48-year-old nurse, was administrator of health services at York County Prison.

Hershey was charged in March with homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, reckless endangerment, and driving at an unsafe speed. The affidavit states that his blood alcohol level was .06 — below the legal limit of .08 — and he had marijuana in his system.

Hershey turned himself in to authorities March 5. He was unable to post bail of $150,000 and remains in Lancaster County Prison. A date for his criminal trial has not been set.

The civil lawsuit claims Hershey was “careless, negligent and grossly negligent in numerous respects” when he got behind the wheel and “wantonly, recklessly and negligently” drove the vehicle at a “high, excessive and dangerous rate of speed.”

Hershey’s prior arrest record also features prominently in the lawsuit’s allegations against him and Imports of Lancaster County.

In 2002, Hershey was charged with drunken driving and driving on the wrong side of the road in Lancaster County. Two months later, he was charged with drunken driving in York County.

He pleaded guilty to those charges, and to another charge that his blood alcohol level was greater than .10.

In 1998 Hershey pleaded guilty to charges of careless driving and following too closely.

The lawsuit claims “Imports [of Lancaster County] knew of Hershey’s past driving and criminal record and authorized him to operate its vehicle to take prospective customers” on test drives.

As Hershey approached 100 mph, a dump truck driven by Landyshade employee Joel Frey pulled out from a side roadway and crossed the center line on Colebrook Road, the lawsuit claims.

Frey told police the driver lost control of the Mitsubishi, which Frey described as “loose and swerving.”

The Mitsubishi left the road, hit an embankment and rolled into a field. Tyler Jensen attempted to administer CPR to his father, but Chris Jensen suffered severe head injuries and died at the scene.

The crash left Tyler Jensen with broken vertebrae in his neck, a separated shoulder and a concussion.

The lawsuits claims Landyshade was negligent because its driver failed “to act with due regard for the rights and safety of others on the highway” and operated “the truck in such a manner so as to cause it to cross over the center line.”

Police did not cite Frey in the crash.

The lawsuit charges Mitsubishi Motors with negligence and product liability, claiming the vehicle was unstable and prone to roll over.

It also claims that Mitsubishi failed “to adequately inform and/or warn purchasers or ultimate users of the vehicle as to the instability of the vehicle” and manufactured the car “knowing it was inherently dangerous.”

Kwass, one of the Jensen family’s attorneys, declined further comment on the lawsuit. The family did not wish to make a statement at this time, he said.

Hershey’s attorney, Janice Longer, said, “I can honestly say I have not seen a copy of the complaint,” and could not comment.

Imports of Lancaster County’s attorney, James H. Thomas, of the Lancaster law firm Blakinger, Byler & Thomas, is out of the office until July 5 and unable to comment.

A woman who answered the phone at Landyshade Mulch Products said no one had seen the lawsuit and therefore would not comment on it.

A trial date for the civil case has not been set.

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