The City Council and the driver of a runaway vehicle that killed an American tourist in August are now being charged with negligent manslaughter and various traffic violations.
Carl Robinson, a 63-year-old former school psychologist in Baltimore, Maryland, was struck and killed by a malfunctioning rubbish lorry on Copenhagen’s Strøget pedestrian street on August 29.
The accident occurred after a city sanitation worker parked and left the vehicle unattended while on his rounds emptying rubbish bins on Strøget. An inspector reported that a sensor in the driver's seat that disengages the vehicle's motor when it is unoccupied may have malfunctioned and caused the vehicle to accelerate.
But after investigating the city’s fleet of 77 electric rubbish lorries, it was found that seven of the vehicles – including the one involved in Robinson’s death – had their security mechanisms disabled.
“There are several security measures meant to secure that this kind of accident doesn’t take place,” Hjalte Aaberg, the administrative director of the city’s technical affairs department, said in a statement. “We take it very seriously that the switch was turned off on several vehicles. We have rectified the situation and have stepped up our security measures.”
But that isn’t enough, according to Robinson’s nephew Jason Schoenfeld, who feels the blame should land squarely on the city and its vehicle maintenance department, and not the driver.
“I am actually appalled that the city would use the driver as a scapegoat,” Schoenfeld said. “From what I understand, the city bypassed the safety equipment in that vehicle. The only charges should be against the city and whoever maintains that fleet. Whoever maintains those vehicles is 100 percent at fault in my uncle’s death.”
Schoenfeld, who once held a job conducting accident investigations, called it “a joke” that the city drove the involved vehicle away from the accident scene and stressed that the security mechanism should have never been tampered with.
“You just don’t do that kind of stuff,” he said. “That safety equipment was there for a reason.”
Schoenfeld added that his family has sympathy for the driver, who was “in a bad spot at the wrong time”.
Although the city acknowledged its liability and compensation responsibility after being sued by the family back in October, Schoenfeld said his family continues to receive “horrendous responses” from the city.
“We have received zero dollars,” he said. “We are just constantly told that ‘it is being reviewed’. They should be responsible for more than just funeral expenses based on their obvious neglect.”
The news that there are now criminal charges was little solace for a family who lost a popular member.
“Let’s say the city is found guilty,” Schoenfeld said. “What are they gonna do? Are they gonna pay a fine? They haven’t even paid what they were supposed to have paid. They don’t care about the loss of a life. Shame on the city.”
In Robinson's hometown of Baltimore, the association of school psychologists has suggested creating a scholarship fund in his honour. Although the details of the scholarship are still being worked out, it would carry Robinson's name and be awarded to graduates of Baltimore's city high schools. The Schoenfeld family suggests that if Copenhagen wants to live up to its admitted liability in the accident, the city should consider contributing to the scholarship fund.
The negligent manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison, but Copenhagen Police prosecutor Charlotte Møgelhøj told Berlingske Nyhedsbureau that police would only seek a fine.