Joe Thompson's attorney seeks dismissal of charges in fatal crash

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NORTH ADAMS — The attorney for Mass MoCA director Joe Thompson asked a judge Friday to dismiss a negligent motor vehicle homicide charge against his client in connection with a 2018 fatal crash.

During a hearing in Northern Berkshire District Court, attorney Timothy Shugrue argued that there is no probable cause to establish negligence on the part of his client in the collision that killed motorcyclist Steven Fortier, 49.

Thompson, 61, told police he was driving north on Church Street shortly after 10 p.m. July 20, 2018, when he saw a single headlight coming toward him around the bend where Ashland Street merges with Church Street. He said he veered into the opposite lane but couldn't avoid the collision.

Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Stuart Weissman said the state believes Thompson's vehicle was traveling in the wrong lane before the collision. He said physical evidence, including the position of Fortier's body and the position of his motorcycle and other debris, support the state's theory.

But Shugrue argued that Fortier was driving his motorcycle at a high rate of speed and drifted into Thompson's lane after failing to negotiate a curve. Thompson had no alternative but to swerve left to avoid the collision, the attorney said.

Shugrue said Fortier apparently tried to correct his course and struck Thompson's vehicle on its passenger side.

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He said photo evidence shows there was no damage to the vehicle's front end that would support the state's contention it was a head-on collision.

Thompson wasn't acting negligently, Shugrue said, because he was trying to avoid a collision, and the evidence supports that theory.

"No probable cause exists at all," he said.

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Shugrue said the accident reconstructionist on which the state is relying based their opinion, in part, on incorrect information regarding which lane was northbound and which was southbound.

Shugrue said police have confirmed Thompson was neither intoxicated nor using a cellphone at the time of the crash.

Both legal teams have stipulated, however, that Fortier had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.28, more than three times the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in Massachusetts.

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Judge Paul M. Vrabel said the argument being presented at the hearing would be compelling evidence for a jury, but wasn't necessarily enough to establish a lack of probable cause.

He said while the state's theory may ultimately be disproven, whether the crash was an unavoidable accident free of negligence would be a matter to be taken up at trial.

While Thompson "could have been in the wrong lane for the right reason," Vrabel said, the fact he was in the wrong lane at all may be enough to establish enough probable cause to keep the case open.

Vrabel did not issue a decision Friday, but took the matter under advisement.

Should Vrabel deny the motion to dismiss, the parties are due back in court on April 17 for a trial readiness conference with a trial tentatively set for mid-May.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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