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News   September 6, 2017   by Allan Janssen

SPECIAL REPORT: Technician on trial

Joe Ramono fraudulently certified a 1995 Dodge Ram a month before it went out of control and killed a 27-year-old woman. A jury was asked to determine if he was criminally negligent in her death.


Joe Ramono arrives at Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Peterborough, Ont. Photo courtesy of Jason Bain, Postmedia

Joe Ramono’s career in the automotive aftermarket is over.

The 52-year-old former shop owner and licensed technician was found guilty this summer of issuing a fraudulent safety certificate for a vehicle involved in a fatal crash in 2012.

That’s on top of more than 70 Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) charges, for which he was convicted last year, and $31,000 in fines imposed for infractions related to issuing safety certificates.

He told CARS magazine he is no longer in the business of servicing vehicles.

The story behind one of the safety certificates he issued – the one for the 1995 Dodge Ram 2500 that went out of control on Peterborough County Road 4 on Aug. 3, 2012 and killed 27-year-old Abigail MacNaughton – played out in Ontario Superior Court this summer.

Joe Ramono pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal negligence causing death, and uttering a forged document. He was forced to defend himself against allegations that he signed a fake safety certificate for the truck, never having actually inspected it. Or, if he did, having done so with criminal incompetence.

Either way, said Assistant Crown Attorney Lisa Wannamaker, in her closing argument, “Mr. Ramono showed wanton or reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others… He failed to do what he was supposed to do, what it was his responsibility to do: inspect vehicles and only issue a safety certificate if they qualify for one.”

Repeatedly through the four-week trial, Wannamaker spoke of the importance of vehicle safeties, and the reason they’re so carefully regulated.

“This is a big deal,” she said. “As a mechanic, you are guaranteeing the safety of a thing we all understand is potentially lethal to us and to others on the road. You are sending a vehicle out to travel the roadways with all of us, and you are verifying through your inspection, that it is safe.”

The story that unfolded during the course of the trial began with the sale of the truck “as is” on July 12, 2012 to a young man named Jordan Schiemann.

The 1995 Dodge Ram 2500 was inspected after the crash.

Nothing was above board about this sale. Schiemann would testify in court that he asked the seller, Richard Spence, to alter the receipt to show a sale price of just $500 rather than $7000, so less tax would have to be paid on it. He also admitted to lying about having obtained insurance for the vehicle. And, most notably, he asked Spence for help obtaining a “phony” safety certificate.

Spence, who had bought a fake safety two years earlier when he initially bought the truck from his brother, said he could help him out on that point. He put Schiemann in touch with a co-worker named Scott Tucker, who’d dealt in fake safeties before.

Called to the witness stand Tucker acknowledged that he had agreed to obtain a fake safety for the pickup. The cost was “about $200” and all he needed was the vehicle identification number, the odometer reading, and the color, make, model, and year of the vehicle.

In his testimony, Tucker told prosecutors that he didn’t know that obtaining a fake safety was illegal, and he insisted – as Spence had also done – that he did not benefit financially from the transaction.

Asked why he got involved, Tucker said, “I’ve asked myself that many times. Just foolish, I guess.”

In any case, he passed the money and information on to a Scarborough technician, who contacted a counterperson at a Scarborough parts store for the name of a technician who could do the safety. That counterman offered the name of someone he took to be a licensed mechanic – a man named Brian Bush, who is now deceased.

Court never did learn how Joe Ramono ultimately came to be the technician of record on the Dodge Ram’s safety certificate, but his signature is on the document, certifying that no deficiencies were found.

“Whether it went through Brian Bush, or more people in-between, what matters and what we know for sure, is that Joe Ramono signed that safety,” Wannamaker said. “He acknowledged that fact [to police]. It was his safety, his responsibility, no matter how many hands it went through.”

Perhaps the first sign that something was wrong with the safety was the fact that it was dated July 4, 2012, some eight days before Schiemann actually purchased the vehicle.

Schiemann and his friend, 21-year-old Billy Towns knew that the vehicle needed work. Schiemann, who considered a career as an automotive technician himself, installed new ball joints and U-joint. He also purchased a steering shaft and had plans to purchase a steering box online to eliminate excessive play in the steering.

The new steering shaft was still in the bed of the truck about a month later when the truck, with Towns at the wheel, was involved in the fatal collision.

On that day, Aug. 3, 2012, Towns attempted to pass three cars at once at a very high rate of speed on a two-lane highway. He testified that when he attempted to bring the vehicle back into its lane, he had trouble steering. The truck went from one soft shoulder to the other, with Towns madly trying to correct the oversteer.

As Abigail MacNaughton’s vehicle approached, the truck fishtailed back into the middle of her lane. The collision actually pushed her small vehicle backward a significant distance from the point of impact.

MacNaughton was airlifted to hospital, where she later died.

The safety certificate that a jury found was fraudulent.

Following the accident, an investigation led police to Pro Street Auto Sales & Services Ltd., in Stouffville, Ont. Joe Ramono’s business consisted of an office and two bays with very little equipment.

A search of the premises revealed a number of shortfalls for a certified Motor Vehicle Inspection Station.

“You have to meet certain conditions in order to issue Safety Standard Certificates (SSC),” MTO enforcement officer Steve Gimera testified in court. Among them, the station must have specific tools and equipment, books of unused safety certificates must be kept secure and on the premises, all paperwork related to inspections, including work orders, must be kept on site, and inspection handbooks and Ministry circulars must be available.

Also missing was the work order for the Dodge Ram 2500. It was never produced, the Crown contended, because it was never done.

Pro Street Auto Service & Sales in Stouffville, Ont.

Following several visits, MTO laid 72 charges against both Ramono and his business, with combined fines of some $31,000. He was convicted in a Newmarket court in 2016. The bulk of the charges related to bad record keeping, but there were also allegations of selling safety certificates for vehicles that would never have passed a proper safety inspection.

According to a televised report on local TV station CHEX, “court documents state the investigation turned up instances where certificates were issued to vehicles with corroded brake lines, steering wheels with excessive free play, and vehicles with rusted and rotted holes. Court documents state that none of those cars would have passed a routine safety inspection, yet certificates were issued.”

A post-crash inspection of the 1995 Dodge Ram driven by Billy Towns proved that it was among the vehicles that should not have passed a safety inspection, court heard. Among the deficiencies were three that should have led to an automatic fail.

* While the exhaust system was largely intact and attached, it had no muffler.


*
There were holes in the floor of the cab. Wires were exposed which should have been shielded from the elements. And the emergency brake cable was visible along the floor of the cab. Gimara pointed out that the rust marks on the carpets indicated the holes in the floor were not new. Those in itself would have led to a failure because of their ability to allow noxious fumes into the cab of the vehicle.

* And the free play in the steering wheel was excessive – measured to be over 120mm. The allowable amount of free play for this vehicle was 55mm. Gimera testified that he’s done hundreds of inspections and never seen a free play measurement that high.

“Let me be clear,” Wannamaker told the jury in her closing argument. “The Crown takes the primary position that the steering was entirely defective. It was entirely defective at the time that Mr. Ramono forged that safety, and it was entirely defective at the time of the collision. And it played a major role in this collision.”

Several times during the trial, lawyers discussed a ‘but for’ test, which suggests that but for the improper certification, the accident would not have occurred. The Crown insisted that was, indeed, the case.

“That truck should never have passed a safety inspection,” Wannamaker said. “That truck, that vehicular ticking time bomb with holes in the floor, no muffler, rusted out cab mounts, and excessive pre-existing free play in the steering should never have been allowed on our roads. But for Joe Ramono forging that safety, the one with no work order and no defects found, Abigail MacNaughton would not have been killed in a collision with that 1995 Dodge Ram pickup truck.”

Ultimately, however, jury members did not agree. After 24 hours of deliberation, the eight women and four men found him not guilty of the criminal negligence charge. They handed down a verdict of guilt only on the forgery charge.

Ramono will be sentenced Sept. 27, 2017. The crown is seeking jail time.


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17 Comments » for SPECIAL REPORT: Technician on trial
  1. Great article and I’m sure it will get a lot of people thinking . Those who have uttered false certificates beware . I myself have an original copy of one we did a local ” entrapment ” test and ordered at a submarine sandwich shop a few years ago . It surprised me I could get a safety slip on an old Plow truck in my yard with a rotted cab and floors amongst 50 more deficiencies . Ironically I sold the truck as is and kept that slip yet the guy who bought it was driving it in a short period of time afterward ( how I say ? ) . This makes me wonder who signed one for him .
    The biggest issue I see all of the articles not reporting on is that this particular truck in the accident was likely on the road upto 1 week before the slip was issued for many years and driving in the same dis repaired state as many many cars and trucks are on the road today . The fact is that our current inspection system lets the vehicles get like that and when it comes to transfer of ownership time the list of defects turns what the seller considers a daily driver into a scrap heap destined for the auto wrecker .We need annual inspections to correct this .
    It does not make sense to me to that our MTO allows by default of a regulated system
    leagues of unsafe cars on the road that are not currently getting a safety certificate and then one day when a ownership transfer is necessary we ( the technicians ) have to break the news to them that this vehicle hasn’t met standards in 5 years or more from what we see .
    It will take a tragedy to get media attention and furthermore who will get investigated if a vehicle is owned by a person who has had it for 7 years , gets into the same accident , has no records of repairs because he does it himself or at a shop that doesn’t give receipts and functions from a back yard or under the table .
    I see far to many looks that people give me that get their list of defects for a safety inspection then a nudge nudge , wink wink and that car is taken out of my shop and you see it in traffic the next week knowing there is no way it got that amount of work done and really passed a standards test .
    Wise up government and take this as a warning .
    For that one truck there are 2 more in traffic within a mile of that accident scene with rotted brake lines , loose steering components and many items that don’t cut it on a good day .

  2. Antonio Ramos says:

    Its sad to think that someone can lose their life because of someone’s bad choices. I think that the vehicle owner who purposely went looking for a fraudulent safety should have the book thrown at him too as well as the person or persons who helped facilitate the fraud. That truck shouldn’t have been on the road and the driver knew it. He was reckless the moment he decided to drive the vehicle on the road. The technician who issued the fake safety was an accessory to the crime as that vehicle should not have been on the road. That said, how many people are driving vehicles that they’ve owned for years and know it wouldn’t pass a safety? That is a much larger problem in my opinion.

  3. Scott says:

    The government needs to set up there own inspection stations.
    There is little if any regulation or proper enforcement on a regular bases in our shops and we also receive no training at all on proper safety inspection, other than we had when we attended trade school. They need to recertify us every so often and perform mandatory periodic inspections of our shops. Or they run it properly not like they are now.

    Don’t get me started on vehicles that i see day to day that are un safe. That have never or only had one inspection in there life.

    The tech who signed that safety should be seriously punished ,it’s a fact he never even saw the vehicle, mistakes or missed items on a safety do happen but this is just plain wrong!

    • arctic_front says:

      Getting government involved in any portion of this system other than enforcement is a bad idea. If you put any government entity in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 6 months there will be a shortage of sand. Look what a complete disaster Ontario has become and under our current PM, the rest of Canada will soon follow in lock-step. Government incompetence is the ‘norm’, not an exception.

  4. Brian Browning says:

    We see this every day here. BC has a slightly different system but essentially there is no inspection of any passenger vehicles. We have to set the standard of what we inspect or not. Basically what liability the shop wants to take on. I refuse to take in Lifted Trucks, none would ever pas any ways. Unfortunately my biggest issue is with the DIY crowd. Just had an Expedition on the hoist that some Back Yarder had done the front brakes on, Noise issue. Bolts missing from the left caliper, chewing into the wheel, all the others loose, brake hoses twisted so they pinched when turned. Not what I want coming at me at 100KPH!!!

  5. Afonso Albuquerque says:

    This story just makes me sad because this death could and should have been averted had there been more policing in our profession.
    I for myself having owned & operated an automotive repair business for 30 years am disgusted with our profession for many reasons, one being due to the lack of policing in our profession. I have only seen one environmental inspector in the last 30 years, have not seen one MTO inspector in over 25 years and have never had any ODP inspection ever. I’ve always had to rely on social media and trade magazines to stay on top of current rules and regulations. My belief is to stay abreast of and always abided by rules, regulations and the law, unfortunately there are too many individuals in our profession that keep cutting corners which ends up making me look like a crook. I have and would welcome any MTO, Drive Clean, Environmental and labour board inspectors to my facility with the comments that if i am doing anything incorrectly please advise me and I will correct the deficiency. Unfortunately there are too many shops and owners out there that keep handing out false safety inspections and drive clean test inspections which just makes my stomach turn and dislike our profession more and more every year.
    Back in January when the new MTO safety regulations were implemented I attended a clinic where an MTO officer was present and he stated that there has been cut back’s and there were fewer officers at the MTO in the last several years. So how are we supposed to catch these individuals who keep cutting corners ??
    As far as I am concerned I agree 100% there should be mandatory annual vehicle inspections and annual shop inspections with stiff fines and consequences. Then and only then can we avoid unfortunate deaths of innocent individuals.

    • This should never of happened but it did and we need to hold those accountable for their crime. Everyone in our industry needs to work together to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
      I agree we need to have mandatory annual vehicle inspections and that means as a group we need to lobby government and make it happen. We need statistics on unsafe vehicles that you seen everyday in your business. How many times do we hear about a vehicle that is unsafe but still on our roadways.
      We can report the vehicles to the police as it no different that a drunk driver on the roads.
      As an association here in the Province of Ontario we are trying to make a difference our members are concerned and we are lobbying for biennial safety inspections. For those shop owners who are not members consider joining your association.
      AARO Executive Director Diane Freeman

  6. George S says:

    i sometimes feel sorry for this guy because so many times you feel pressured to do a ‘favor.’ Trouble is, that favor can come back to bite you. I’ve gotten into some near shouting matches because I refused to sign off on a vehicle until I had a chance to check it over. No amount of explaining will convince the customer that you’re looking out for both the customer’s best interests and yours too. I had a boss who threatened me with dismissal if I didn’t sign off on a customer’s (highly) unsafe truck. When I told him that, in addition to possibly getting shut down, Employment Standards would enjoy a case like that, he backed off, at least on me but the next thing I knew, he was attempting to coerce a co-worker into signing it off. I told him: “Don’t you dare!!!!”

  7. Bob Ward says:

    The fact that the truck owner sought out a fraudulent safety is no excuse whatsoever, plain and simple. They should be held legally responsible. The excuse he gave is very LAME. The owner knew exactly what he was doing. Perhaps an education program should be in place outlining the pitfalls of doing what this truck owner did. I feel if the public knows what the legal and criminal repercussions would be in this situation they may not request a fraudulent safety. The public and licensed inspectors know the MTO is not able to police the MVI program. If enforcement was stepped up this would go away.

  8. Joel P says:

    Great article….by the sounds of it that truck obviously should never have been on the road. Yet in the middle of February I could go buy some used vehicle with pure summer tires which passes a safety inspection as long as they have more than 2mm tread depth? You could go buy a brand new Corvette in the middle of winter, drive it off the lot as is and that vehicle is “safe for the road” buy our safety standards? I think safety standards should be adjusted for the season or time of year in which the inspection takes place, if we really care about safety standards in this country then why can any vehicle pass a safety inspection in the winter time with summer tires….not even new summer tires, tires with less than 1/4 of the original tread? Even shocks as an example, don’t even have to have fluid in them to pass, they just need to be attached at both ends? Our standards are all over the map.

  9. Go to unsafecars.net for a place to register unsafe cars . Maybe the tradesmen in our industry can make some noise and make a change . It’s a lot like the professional sports industry and concussions . The problem is the NFL wasn’t the one who prompted the solutions .

  10. Here’s an example for all to think about . I wish I could show you a picture here .
    A client arrives at my shop today . He has a rotted out Caravan . He is in the middle of getting his safety with a little work here and there . He is currently driving this jalopy full of holes .
    Who put him on the road for 10 days ? By the way he is on his way to Niagara Falls with the family . Answer :
    The MTO issues a temp permit which is to me not to go on vacation with and who gets taken to court if this one wipes out on the 403 later on today or this weekend .
    Get it right . The safety standard certificate will stop this in 10 or less days right . Somehow I doubt it .
    Let’s look at this one again in 15 days and I’ll bet the rockers are still out of it .

  11. Jon Carter says:

    If you look at most insurance inspection forms it clearly asks if certain components pass or fail. Brake pass or fail. Suspension pass or fail. Shoks/struts pass or fail and so on and so on. At the very bottom is a section that asks for ANY ADDITIONAL COMMENTS FROM THE MECHANIC. I’ve filled this section out many times for reasons why a vehicle is unsafe that the form doesn’t ask in specific. If the frame is rusted through, floor boards and at the very bottom it asks IS THE CAR ROAD WORTHY YES OR NO. If they see something they are obligated to put it on paper to save people from injury or death. Would you let your significant other, your kids drive this vehicle. Will this vehicle drive beside them. It’s there responsibility to fill it out properly with an inspection or they should be thrown in jail.

  12. Mark Klein says:

    I believe there are two problems with this scenerio. Firstly, any tech who signs a form without a thorough inspection of a vehicle should not be doing inspections. If he gets caught doing this, he should lose his ticket. Makes us all look bad. Secondly, there is no mention of the owner having any responsibility in this situation, he went looking for someone to sign a report knowing full well that the vehicle is unsafe. I think the owner should be charged with the same crime as the shop owner. As a shop owner and tech, I do not have power to pull a vehicle from the road, and I have seen many vehicles that should not be on the road, but must have been inspected by someone.

  13. butch demoors says:

    in the article it says the shop did not have all the proper tools etc, so if this is so out in B.C we are checked by cvip inspectors to make sure all things are in order for us to do the job, what charges were laid against the cvip people in this FOR THEM NOT DOING THERE JOB? Just fyi I have been an inspector for cvip since it was brought in here. I also did investigations for the rcmp for 25 years on accident involving death or injuries, and one thing people don’t realise is there is a line on your insurance policy that says you as the owner operator of you vehical need to keep it in a safe maintained condition so what charges were brought against the driver for wreckless and unsafe operation of the vehical? And by the way he knew it wasn’t safe he was looking for steering parts that he didn’t find cheep enough yet? This by no means was rite what the inspector did and blame should be placed on him I have seen so many things wrong for instance I called the inspector for cvip that we deal with here about a truck that was towed in here for brake failure and upon looking at it it had been inspected the day before in surry b.c and the brakes were a mess no linings and just a ball of rust but was past within the last 24.hrs. the truck had all kinds of other things wrong like air bags missing etc. the inspector said to me what do you want me to do about it because if they go after this shop they will play the racial card and its not eassy to stop a shop from doing what there doing. So as of rigjht now were are looking at not doing inspects anymore tks.

  14. butch demoors says:

    just another question is why are the parts places selling people off the street BRAKE parts or steering parts etc. so the customer who is not a mechanic or know anthing about how to do the job properly or safely!!

  15. Supershafts says:

    Isn’t that amazing how somehow the blame is removed from the driver and put on the inspection issue.
    .
    No matter how much play was in the steering did anyone not pay attention to the details of the accident???
    He had no control, the truck was fishtailing and the driver completely unable to do what was needed , that same scenario is the same that happens in many cars with an idiot behind the wheel.
    That accident is ALL on the DRIVER.

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