Friday January 20, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The victim of a December hit-and-run expressed shock and anger in the wake of last week's decision by a clerk magistrate not to move forward with charges against the daughter of the county's chief probation officer. Meanwhile, the Pittsfield Police are appealing the decision.

"I feel like I've been hit all over again," were the words Peter Moore, 45, used to describe how he felt when he learned no charges would be brought against Meredith Nilan, the driver the police say hit Moore.

Moore still bears the physical evidence of the hit-and-run accident he suffered nearly six weeks ago, including having to wear a neck brace. On his face, cuts and scrapes are still in the midst of healing.

On Dec. 8, Moore was hit by a fast-moving vehicle that police believe swerved into him as he walked his dog on Winesap Road near East Street.

Police say 24-year-old Meredith Nilan was at the wheel of the vehicle, a 2001 Subaru Forester owned by her father Clifford Nilan, the chief of probation at Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield.

Moore knows the woman police say ran him down.

"Meredith was at the Academy of Finance through the Pittsfield Public Schools and I worked with her in that program," he said. "That was six or seven years ago."

On Jan. 12, a probable cause hearing was held in Central Berkshire District Court before First Assistant Clerk Magistrate Nathan A. Byrnes, from the Westfield District Court.

Nilan's attorney, Timothy J. Shugrue, told the Eagle on Tuesday that a 21 2-hour "full evidentiary hearing" took place that day and that no probable cause was found to charge Nilan with negligent operation or leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, both misdemeanors.

Moore's attorney, Michael R. Hinkley, said he was not allowed to sit in on the hearing or get any information concerning it.

"We were unable to get any information about the hearing, which stands in contrast to Mr. Shugrue's statement on Tuesday that a full evidentiary hearing was held," he said.

Hinkley said a clerk magistrate has the discretion on whether or not to have an open hearing or closed hearing as well as whether to hear evidence from a victim or to allow a victim's attorney to be present.

This was independently verified to be true by The Eagle.

"There's no absolute right to be there, but there's no absolute right to preclude someone from being there," said Hinkley. "All I wanted to do was sit, just hear what was said. We weren't allowed to do that."

A call to Byrnes was not immediately returned Thursday.

Hinkley said the elements of the two charges include operating a motor vehicle on a public way and failing to exercise reasonable care.

"Those elements speak for themselves," he said, "nevertheless here we are six weeks later and no one has been held responsible for breaking the rules."

"I'm a firm believer in transparency, justice and full and fair adjudication and I'd like to think the community would be able to have that," said Hinkley.

The Moores are evaluating their options as to holding people civilly responsibility, said the attorney.

The news that the case had stalled hit the Moore family hard.

"We're transplants. I've fallen in love with the Berkshires," said Moore with emotion in his voice. "Instantly it didn't feel like home anymore."

Moore's wife, Robin, said their 10-year-old daughter compared it to a game of tug-of-war in which the other team was wearing cleats.

"To go home and have to tell your kids Dad's on the correct side of the road walking and gets hit by someone driving in the wrong lane," said Mrs. Moore, "and all this stuff we teach them it's kind of like... nothing. Our judicial system has failed us."

The only part of the justice system that didn't fail him, Moore said, was the Pittsfield Police Department, who did a thorough job. Moore said he fully cooperated with police during the investigation.

Moore's memory of what happened the night of Dec. 8 still contains some gaps as he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. He clearly remembers taking the family dog, a mutt named Toby, for a walk in his neighborhood at around 7:45 p.m. after he returned from his job as an administrator at Berkshire Health Systems.

That night he was "walking double time" with the dog on Winesap Road just past 8 p.m. As he headed toward East Street he remembers feeling like he was about to be hit.

"I have a vivid image of headlights," he said.

Moore believes he turned around and the vehicle was bearing down on him. Taking "evasive action," Moore got Toby on the sidewalk and then attempted to dive onto the sidewalk and out of the way of the fast moving vehicle.

"I didn't think I was hit by the car," he said, and it wasn't until several hours later when at the hospital he discovered the extent of his injuries.

After waking up near 6 Winesap Road, he got and made his way home believing he had jumped out of the way of the car and had just knocked himself out when he hit the ground.

He said he wasn't yet in pain, but was extremely cold. At home he laid down on the couch and convinced his wife he wasn't badly hurt.

Moore enjoys skiing, mountain biking, rugby and other sports where the occasional injury isn't unheard of, so when he told his wife he was OK, she took him at his word. But by 4 a.m. things had changed and Robin called for an ambulance.

At the hospital he was told that it was apparent he had been hit by a vehicle and that he had suffered internal injuries, a broken calf bone and a broken vertebra in his neck.

He couldn't believe it and remembered thinking: "I walked home with a broken neck."

His neurologist told him his actions were no surprise to her as this type of behavior isn't that uncommon with head injuries.

Moore had to be re-admitted to the hospital at the end of December to have his neck fracture corrected through neurosurgery as it was impinging on a nerve that was affecting his left shoulder, arm and hand.

He said Berkshire Medical Center did an outstanding job with his course of treatment which continues to this day.

"It's still a road," Moore said of his recovery.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:
aamelinckx@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6249.
On Twitter: @BE_TheAmelinckx