US investment banker charged with hit and run on cyclists blames "new car smell"

Certainly there's a bad smell somewhere in this case...

by Tony Farrelly   December 16, 2010  

Stars & Stripes.jpg

The victim of a hit and run incident in Colarado will today try to overturn a controversial plea bargain that saw a felony charge against Denver fund manager, Martin Erzinger, dropped in return for a guilty plea on two lesser misdemeanour charges. Should that happen, it is understood Erzinger's legal team will claim that 'new car' gases emitted from the upholstery of his month-old Mercedes were a contributing factor.

Mark Hulbert, the district attorney who made the plea bargain, justified it at the time on the grounds that "felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession” – a statement that resulted in public outcry, particularly given the consequences of the incident for the victim, New York anesthesiologist Dr Steven Milo. Dr Milo's legal team say he will have to live with a level of pain caused by the crash for the rest of his life. His injuries may also hamper his ability to undertake delicate transplant surgery.

Dr Milo's lawyer will today attempt to have the plea bargain overturned, a move that will be resisted by both the district attorney and Erzinger's lawyer. Indeed, the district attorney will attempt to bar Dr Milo giving evidence to the hearing – on the grounds that while Colorado's Victim Rights Act guarantees a victim's input at critical stages of criminal proceedings, it does not mean a victim can intervene in a court hearing. Dr Milo's lawyer will no doubt argue in turn that the Victim Rights Act is designed to ensure that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors give the same level of protection to victims as they do to defendants.

In what many will no doubt see as a bizarre twist to an already bizarre case, should the plea bargain be overturned Erzinger's legal team will argue that the crash was caused by sleep apnia (a condition in which people temporarily lose consciousness without knowing it) that was itself brought on by the gases emitted by Erzinger's new car.

As reported on at the time of his arrest in July, Erzinger claimed not to have known that he had hit anyone when his car drifted off the road and hit a culvert. He also claimed to have reported the incident to the police although they have no record of such a call. Erzinger was arrested in the car park of a derelict Pizza Hut restaurant while on the phone to Mercedes Benz to arrange the repair of his car. He was loading damaged body panels into the boot.

Erzinger's defence team have brought in an accident reconstruction specialist who says in documents submitted to the court that: "Harmful and noxious gases emitted from the upholstery can infiltrate the driver's compartment and potentially alter the driver."

However, while it has long been acknowledged that many of the materials used to build the passenger compartments of modern cars do 'de-gas' for some months and there have long been claims that some of those gases are potentially harmful to the car's occupants, there is no scientific basis for such a claim and no record of the phenomenon ever being cited as the cause, or even a contributing cause, of a crash.

Erzinger's lawyer acknowledges as much. However, given the mountain he has to climb in terms of public sympathy for his client and the weight of evidence against him, every little helps. In the public mind at least, the bad smell is not coming from Mr Erzinger's Mercedes but the decision not to press a more serious charge in an incident that could have cost a man his life.

10 user comments

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I can't wait to see what Mercedes say about the claims that their cars gas the occupants!

posted by 2Loose [28 posts]
16th December 2010 - 13:15

1 Like

Glad I don't drive a Merc. They sound dangerous.

Bring me sunshine, and dry roads

MalcolmBinns's picture

posted by MalcolmBinns [107 posts]
16th December 2010 - 17:50


his bank balance may live (or not) to regret that
comment about his Merc Smile

glad I only have a VW now .....

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [728 posts]
16th December 2010 - 18:24

1 Like

Well it's different from 'I was distracted by a spider.' Even though one suspects the spiders normally blamed were crawling across the driver's phone keypad.

posted by Recumbenteer [149 posts]
16th December 2010 - 20:01

1 Like

That's so funny, because I once got off a charge of grand larceny because I claimed the smell of freshly printed bank notes drove me to armed robbery.

Actually, I wonder if one of the side-effects of clenbuterol drowsiness? Because if so, maybe Erzinger has finally discovered what happened to Contador's tainted cows - their hides were used to make his Merc's leather seats.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
16th December 2010 - 20:32

1 Like

Come on, running over people in a car is more of a sport with bragging rights than a crime. And he probably deserved to be run over.

Here is how the UK punishes hit and run:

Mohammed Ibrahim

posted by surreyxc [48 posts]
17th December 2010 - 14:39


What is remarkable is the distinct lack of media coverage this story is receiving in the vicinity of Vail - apparently the DA is running for office and his influential wife has some connections, apparently it is the level of global media interest that is having an impact. I also hope that Mercedes also take out a defamation suit against the driver for being an a$$.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [369 posts]
17th December 2010 - 16:27

1 Like

I would think Mercedes would have a vested interest in proving the issue of new car smell is a crock of sh*t. I don't expect Mercedes to have limits to its funds.


posted by OldRidgeback [2250 posts]
17th December 2010 - 22:22

1 Like

Well, what do you expect from a country that has to warn that bags of nuts "contain nuts"?

Common sense is in very short supply in the US.


posted by davebinks [128 posts]
18th December 2010 - 0:20


In my little dream-world, a bike-riding Director at Merc sues this idiot, gets awarded a couple of million dollars, then 'donates' it to the doctor. Big Grin

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3348 posts]
11th November 2011 - 9:33