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93-year-old Peabody driver arraigned in Wal-Mart crash

By Brian Benson
Globe Correspondent / October 23, 2009

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The mother of a 1-year-old girl who was seriously injured when a car plowed into a Danvers Wal-Mart in June looked on yesterday as the elderly driver pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on negligence charges.

Ninety-three-year-old Louis Vesprini of Peabody was looking for a parking space when he stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake, driving through two red posts into the store’s exit doors, police reported.

The car struck Alaina Hayes, 25, of Gloucester, who was pushing her daughter, Makayla, in a stroller, according to the report from the June 2 accident.

Hayes has filed a civil lawsuit for an unspecified amount against Vesprini, said her lawyer, Barry Feinstein of Peabody.

“We’re seeking damages to provide the best medical treatment possible’’ for the infant, Feinstein said outside Salem District Court, where Vesprini was arraigned.

Hayes, who plans to attend Vesprini’s subsequent court appearances, hopes the process provides closure, Feinstein said.

After the accident, Makayla had surgery to repair a fractured skull and jaw at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The mother suffered lesser injuries but is still battling mental trauma, Feinstein said.

The child has undergone two surgeries, with a third scheduled, he said, noting that Makayla is living at home.

Doctors are worried about long-term issues because her head struck a cash register, possibly causing brain damage, he said.

“The primary concern besides all the physical issues is what are the long-term developmental effects,’’ Feinstein said. “The family is guarded but hopeful.’’

Wal-Mart is also a defendant in the suit, partly because safety barriers designed to prevent cars from crashing through the store were allegedly irregularly spaced. Other people injured at the scene may join as plaintiffs, Feinstein said.

Wal-Mart has not received a copy of the suit, said Daphne Moore, a spokeswoman for the company.

“From the moment this happened, we’ve taken the situation very seriously,’’ Moore said. “When we have an opportunity to review something, we will certainly respond appropriately.’’

No date has been set for hearings on the civil matter.

Vesprini, dressed in a sport coat and using a cane, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on one count of negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Vesprini was released on personal recognizance.

Prosecutor Colleen Cashman requested that Vesprini be forbidden from driving for the duration of the case.

Paul Markham, a Melrose lawyer representing Vesprini, said in court that Vesprini had stopped driving and given up his license.

Markham and Vesprini declined comment after the arraignment.

If convicted, Vesprini could face a fine or up to two years in jail, said Stephen O’Connell, a spokesman for the Essex district attorney’s office.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3 in Salem District Court.