Test drive turned deadly in Lancaster County

Posted: March 01, 2011

WHEN THE airborne sports car finally came to a stop after the high-speed test drive, Tyler Jensen, secure in his seat belt, turned to the back seat to check on his father.

But Jon Christian "Chris" Jensen, 48, wasn't there.

The son jumped out of the red 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer as fast as he could, despite his own injuries, and began searching along the rural Lancaster County road.

Fifty feet from the car, he found a disfigured body in a cornfield. At first he didn't realize it was his father, and actually continued walking past the body. But he quickly realized his mistake and returned to administer CPR. It was too late.

The horrific one-car crash Dec. 30 was particularly noteworthy because neither father nor son had been behind the wheel. Instead, authorities say, the driver was a car salesman with a shoddy driving history and some time in the clink.

In prior cases, the salesman, whom investigators have identified as Michael Hershey, 48, of Landisville, Lancaster County, had pleaded guilty to DUI, careless driving and harassment charges, according to court documents.

The crash that killed Chris Jensen, of Leola, Lancaster County, is under investigation, and no charges have been filed. The final accident report doesn't say how fast Hershey was driving before he swerved off the road to avoid an oncoming truck, but Tyler Jensen, who has since hired an attorney, said that Hershey was driving well over the speed limit. The speed limit on the road is 35.

Bad advice

Father and son had come to check out sports cars at the Imports of Lancaster County dealership because Chris Jensen wanted to buy his son a car.

When they got into the Mitsubishi with Hershey, Tyler Jensen took the wheel, Jensen, 21, told the Daily News in a phone interview from Durango, Colo., where he attends Fort Lewis College. As they drove, Hershey gave Jensen some driving advice, Jensen said.

" 'If you take that corner right, you can really throw the car sideways,' " Hershey said, according to Jensen. He didn't think much about Hershey's words, he said, other than to conclude that "he was a cocky salesman."

"And then he makes this side comment, something along the lines of, 'I'll have to show you how it's done,' " Jensen said.

Hershey instructed Jensen to pull off the road and switch seats with him, Jensen said.

"I asked him pretty specifically, 'Do you have one of these cars?' I wanted to know what kind of driver this guy was," Jensen said.

" 'No, I don't, but I get to drive 'em every day for free,' " Hershey responded, according to Jensen.

Once behind the wheel, Hershey began "popping through the gears," Jensen said, adding that he was holding on to the car door for safety.

"We were flying," Jensen said. "We were absolutely flying."

Suddenly he saw a truck pulling out of a parking area onto the road, crossing into the sports car's lane. Hershey swerved right to avoid the truck, "which is probably the smartest thing that he did," Jensen said.

The car hit an embankment, causing the car to go airborne before striking the ground and rolling several times, according to a preliminary accident report. Chris Jensen and Hershey were ejected from the car.

Tyler unbuckled his seat belt and went to look for his dad.

Dad taught him CPR

"I looked at him, but it didn't really seem like that was my dad," recalled Jensen. "So I walked on."

Perhaps he was shocked at seeing his once-athletic father unconscious and unrecognizable, bleeding profusely "from everywhere," he said - mouth, eyes, ears, nose and head. But Jensen soon realized that it was his father, and returned.

Jensen began working "to see one breath or even a flutter of his eyes," he said.

He began administering CPR - for the first time ever - on his father, a longtime registered nurse who had taught it to him. He tried to clear his father's airways, a messy struggle because his father had bitten his tongue in half, resulting in massive blood loss, Jensen said.

"Half of his teeth were floating around [in his mouth]. I was reaching in and trying, but I never could clear the airways," he said.

When medical units arrived, they told Jensen - who had suffered a concussion, a separated shoulder and a few fractured neck vertebrae - to leave the area. As he frantically paced the field where the sports car had gone airborne, Jensen realized that this nightmare was now his reality.

"I saw them bring out the body bag pretty much immediately, and I knew," he said. "I knew long before they were there, [but] that was when it really set in and there was not a damn thing that I could do about it."

A vow in the hospital

A few hours later, while his injuries were being treated at Lancaster General Hospital, Jensen promised himself he'd try to ensure that what happened to his father would never happen to anyone else.

He hired a Philadelphia lawyer.

Transparency should be the standard when walking into a car dealership or "you can end up with a salesman with a driving record," said Jensen's attorney, Bob Mongeluzzi. "It has to be disclosed to the customer."

Jensen said he intends to work from Colorado to see that legislation is introduced in Harrisburg that would require car dealerships to disclose the driving records of employees who enter a car with a customer.

"For somebody to be able to sell cars when at one point they weren't allowed to drive cars is unbelievable to me," Jensen said. "It's like putting somebody who's molested children in a school. It's, like, what the f--- were you thinking?"

Mongeluzzi said he plans to sue.

The fatal crash is "certainly a very, very tragic accident that my clients are disturbed about," said Jim Thomas, a Lancaster attorney for the car dealership, "but we are still trying to figure it out. The matter is still under investigation, and we continue to investigate and we continue to cooperate."

Hershey, who was also treated for injuries at Lancaster General, did not return calls from the Daily News.

Tyler Jensen said he never again spoke with the salesman with the lead foot.

"I literally spent 10 minutes with this guy and he completely changed my whole life," Jensen said. "He will never, ever be able to understand. He'll never be able to even fathom the situation I had to go through."

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