WAREHAM — In an emotion-drenched hearing, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student today pleaded not guilty to charges he drove his vehicle into bicyclist Michael Dutra and then left the injured Middleborough man on the side of the road with fatal injuries.
Eric Megna appeared in Wareham District Court, where a number of Dutra’s relatives were on hand to see the man who authorities allege struck the 58-year-old father of two with his Jeep Grand Cherokee as Dutra was bicycling on Wood Street in Middleborough the night of Oct. 11.
Megna’s defense attorney, David P. Sorrenti, briefly confused the name of his client with the name of the person Megna is accused of killing, a mistake that created turmoil among Dutra’s relatives, who were asked by Judge Joan Lynch to leave the courtroom.
After a 15-minute break, the hearing resumed, and Lynch set bail at $10,000 cash after Plymouth Assistant District Attorney Matthew Libby told her that black paint recovered from Dutra’s clothing matched a Jeep Cherokee like Megna’s.
After crashing into Dutra, the 18-year-old Megna drove to New Hampshire where his family has a home, according to authorities.
When police questioned his mother about the Jeep, prosecutors said, she said Megna told her that he had hit a deer, and sent his mother a photograph to back up his story. Police later determined that the image was commonly available on the Internet, prosecutors said.
Authorities said they had been able to trace Megna’s travel from the Dartmouth campus to his home in Middleborough and then up to New Hampshire.
Sorrenti, the defense attorney, criticized the accuracy of the investigation. “The timeline the government outlines is pretty much impossible,’’ he said.
Following the arraignment, Dutra’s brother, Steven Dutra of Taunton, told reporters that his family was disturbed by Megna’s alleged attempt to cover up his crime by claiming he hit a deer. But, he added, the larger issue was Megna’s alleged failure to provide help to an injured man.
“I think it was evil,’’ said Steven Dutra. “Nobody deserves that. He left my brother to die.’’
Steven Dutra said his family is hoping to gain a fuller understanding of what happened to Michael.
“I can’t bring my brother back, but as a family we are not vindictive,’’ he said. “We just want to know what happened. We try to do the right thing. That’s all we want.’’
Investigators also allegedly recovered parts of Megna’s vehicle from an auto body shop that were consistent with debris found at the scene on Wood Street. The vehicle damage, authorities said, suggested that a person, rather than a deer, had been struck.
Megna’s family posted the $10,000 cash bail and Megna walked out of the courthouse accompanied by a woman believed to be his mother. Before getting into a waiting vehicle, they declined to comment.Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.