Thursday, October 16, 2014

Denmark: US Tourist Killed by Runaway Electric Vehicle on Strøget Gets No Help from Copenhagen

    The cruise-ship that took Carl Robinson, 63, to Copenhagen should have been the first of many holidays. The American had recently retired from his job as a school psychologist in the Baltimore, MD and could look forward to traveling and living the good life.

    Instead, Copenhagen proved the last city Carl Robinson would ever visit. He was struck and killed by a runaway electric rubbish truck while strolling down the pedestrian street Strøget on August 29, 2012. 

    The vehicle had been left unattended while a city sanitation worker emptied bins. The vehicle suddenly accelerated and struck the American tourist, who was dragged 20 meters under the truck before it collided with a wall. Robinson was killed instantly. Four other people struck by the vehicle escaped with minor injuries. 

    For Robinson’s family back home, the accident itself was hard enough to take. Yet,  what followed only compounded the family's pain, as they had to deal with city officials who they say were unresponsive to requests and generally unhelpful. 

    COMMENT: As a matter of interest, 6,000 US citizens die abroad every year.

    If anything, all travelers should be spared dying in a foreign country where family members are unable to visit them in the absence of having international medical treatment and medical repatriation of their remains back home under circumstances that rarely can be anticipated.

    In December 2012, the City of Copenhagen and the driver of the vehicle were charged with negligent manslaughter and traffic violations resulting in the capital's attorneys fighting back vigorously. 

    "It is clear that we have violated traffic laws and we are of course committed to ensuring that such a serious accident doesn't happen again. But we don't believe that there are sufficient grounds for the manslaughter charge,” Jens Elmelund, a spokesman for the city’s technical affairs department, said in a press release at the time.

    In April 2014, the City Court of Copenhagen ruled that the city could not be held responsible for Robinson’s death. That ruling was appealed to the Eastern High Court, but on Monday  it too, found the city not guilty on the manslaughter charges. 

    According to Ritzau, the Eastern High Court found the city guilty of violations of the Working Environment Act and handed out 45,000 kroner ($7,725) in fines for those violations and for the poor condition of the vehicle, which included an incorrectly working sensor that is supposed to disengage the motor when the driver’s seat is unoccupied. 

    The driver of the vehicle was found guilty of the negligent manslaughter charge and was fined a total of 5,000 kroner and had his driving licence suspended. 

    Robinson’s nephew, Jason Schoenfeld, said he found it more than a little bit curious that the city wasn’t held to account for purposely bypassing the safety switch. An investigation of the city’s fleet of 77 rubbish trucks found that seven, including the one that killed Robinson, had their safety mechanisms disabled. 

    “Nothing has been mentioned about how the city’s negligent actions of bypassing the safety switch caused this accident. In considering the facts in the case, if that switch had been working, the vehicle would not have moved, even if the driver neglected to turn the vehicle off,” Schoenfeld told THE LOCAL. 

    Schoenfeld said his family does not place blame the driver of the vehicle, but rather squarely with city officials. 

    “[City officials] have just used the driver as a scapegoat, overshadowing the city’s complete failure to have a safe vehicle on the road,” he said. 

    “They should be prosecuting the person in charge of the maintenance program of these vehicles. Since seven vehicles had the safety switches disabled, obviously they were doing this on purpose with complete knowledge of what they were doing,” Schoenfeld added. 

    Schoenfeld, whose family sued the city over the accident, said that two years after his uncle’s death he still doesn’t feel that justice has been served.

    “This has never been about money, this has always been about recognizing that the city’s neglect has cost a human life, and they should take responsibility for their mistakes. [City officials] have little concern that their poor decision-making cost someone their life,” he told THE LOCAL. 

    He said he hoped something good would ultimately come out of a fatal accident.

    “I hope this never happens again. If one person’s life can be saved by us going through this, it would be worth it and my uncle would not have been killed in vain,” Schoenfeld said.

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