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Testimony conflicts in car wash death

The owner wavers on whether an unlicensed worker had permission to move vehicles.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published January 25, 2007


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TAMPA - Florida law allows a person without a driver's license to operate a vehicle on private property.

So the owners of Town 'N Country Car Wash did nothing illegal by authorizing its unlicensed employees to move cars out of the washing area to a spot where they could be vacuumed and waxed.

But in a civil courtroom Wednesday, attorney Steve Yerrid questioned whether the practice jeopardized customer safety.

The target of his inquiry: Thomas Lyons Jr., the Spring Hill man who runs the car wash, where in May 2005 Brenda Lee Brown died after being hit by a car with an unlicensed worker in the driver's seat.

Brown, 43, pushed the couple's 18-month-old son's stroller to safety before getting hit. Her husband, McNeil "Mac" Brown, sued the car wash for negligence.

"Whose fault was the accident?" Yerrid asked.

"Well, ultimately it would be our responsibility as the owners of this business," Lyons said.

The former investigator for the Philadelphia Police Department said he knew his employee, 50-year-old Densil Blake, had never had a driver's license. But Lyons grew equivocal when asked whether Blake had permission to move cars on the car wash's property.

First, he said he didn't think he ever authorized Blake to drive.

Then Yerrid played Lyons' deposition, a videotaped interview taken by attorneys before the trial. On it, Lyons said Blake and other employees without driver's licenses were cleared to move cars.

After the tape finished, Lyons agreed on the witness stand that Blake did have permission.

But in his next breath, he said the car wash's policy - set by him - was that unlicensed drivers should not operate vehicles at the car wash.

Yerrid said he would let jurors sort out the conflicting testimony.

Lyons admitted that he had been convicted three times for crimes of dishonesty. Jurors didn't hear the details. The convictions, for perjury, occurred in Pennsylvania in 1987.

Blake was wiping down the inside of an Isuzu Rodeo when he knocked it out of neutral and accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake, authorities said. The SUV sped through the parking lot and barreled into Brown just before she reached her own clean car. Blake was not charged with a crime.

A surveillance tape recorded the tragedy. Lyons' attorney, Joseph Metzger, said Lyons made copies of the tape before it was recorded over.

Yerrid said the car wash operator didn't volunteer to detectives that he had the video. During his deposition, Lyons called Hillsborough sheriff's detectives "amateurs" and said they should have asked for it.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 00:58:59]


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