Mass MoCA director to face charge in fatal crash

Joe Thompson

NORTH ADAMS — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Director Joe Thompson will face a motor vehicle homicide charge in connection with a crash that killed a motorcyclist last year, according to sources close to the investigation.

Thompson's lawyer, Pittsfield attorney Timothy Shugrue, said his client is not guilty of the charge — motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation, a misdemeanor.

A show cause hearing in the case was held in Northern Berkshire District Court on May 9, Shugrue said, and Thompson's arraignment is scheduled for June 19.

"The police confirmed he had used no alcohol, was not on his cellphone," Shugrue said. "But they have elected to go forward with the charges anyway."

A spokesman for the Berkshire District Attorney's Office declined to comment for this story.

The charge comes nearly a year after the July 2018 crash that killed Steven Fortier, 49, of North Adams. Police said at the time that Thompson was headed north and Fortier was headed south on a windy section of Church Street in North Adams when the two collided.

North Adams Police Chief Jason Wood said his department had to wait for a reconstruction report to be completed in collaboration with the Massachusetts State Police before deciding whether to file charges.

"Unfortunately, some of these accidents which are serious in nature take longer to conclude because of the number of agencies that are involved," he said.

Last month's hearing solidified probable cause for a complaint against Thompson, Wood said.

Shugrue said he found it surprising that the complaint comes so long after the incident. He said he's sure the facts of the case will land in Thompson's favor.

"I'm very confident that he's innocent and I'm very confident it's going to be found that way," he said.

Documents relating to the incident remain sealed, but Fortier was seen "falling down" as he left the Mohawk Tavern in North Adams shortly before the incident, according to a report submitted to the North Adams Licensing Commission by Sgt. Albert Zoito. The bar faced sanctions from the city following the crash.

Shugrue said Thompson performed an evasive maneuver to avoid a head-on collision with Fortier's 2001 Harley Davidson, which instead struck the passenger side of his 2015 Audi Q5.

The section of Church Street where the crash occurred can be tricky to navigate, Shugrue said.

"It's just an awful tragedy," he said.

Asked if he expected the case to have any impact on Thompson's work at Mass MoCA, Shugrue said "it certainly shouldn't."

"Joe Thompson did everything he could do to avoid this tragedy," he said.

Eagle reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.