Blaming BC students? Not so fast
When a sport utility vehicle jammed with Boston College students collided with a Green Line trolley on a Saturday night in late April, outraged MBTA officials wasted no time in placing blame. Barely a day passed before they said they would pursue criminal charges and demanded restitution for their damaged rail car.
Three members of the BC hockey team, which had just won the national championship, were passengers in the Jeep, and detectives found the vehicle strewn with beer cans and a bottle of vodka. “These students should be held accountable for their reckless and dangerous behavior,’’ railed the MBTA police chief the day after the crash.
All of which turned a relatively minor incident into national news, splashed across the pages and websites of The New York Times, USA Today, ESPN, and the Huffington Post, as well as every major media outlet in Boston. The hockey team not only failed to receive the customary White House invitation that national champions receive, it hasn’t gotten so much as a congratulatory sign on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
But since then, the story has taken several striking twists, far from the glare of the cameras. In May, with no fanfare, the MBTA suspended the trolley driver for two weeks after the agency’s investigators determined he was driving 35 miles per hour at the time of the crash, well over the 10-mile-per-hour speed limit, T officials confirmed yesterday.
Then, in a closed-door hearing in Brighton District Court last week, the most serious charges against Jane Stanton, the BC student driving the Jeep, were abruptly dismissed. Her toxicology tests showed she had not been drinking, her cellphone records showed she had not been texting, and she faced only three civil traffic infractions, officials and her lawyer said.
And yesterday, amid inquiries from the Globe, T officials said they were suspending the trolley driver indefinitely and pursuing perjury charges against him for testimony he gave in a hearing about the crash.
Operator Edwin Dieujuste, 34, testified before a clerk magistrate that he had a clean motor vehicle driving record, several officials said, though a subsequent review revealed multiple moving violations in Florida and Massachusetts.
Dieujuste, who was informed of his recent suspension yesterday, could not be reached for comment. He did not respond to an e-mail sent via Facebook.
The case has more jerking turns than a Green Line ride at rush hour. It left Jane Stanton’s lawyer proclaiming exoneration for his client yesterday (and threatening a lawsuit); BC officials blaming the MBTA for rushing to judgment; and T officials saying fault should be shared by everyone involved in the crash.
“I think both parties were responsible,’’ said T general manager Richard Davey, adding that Stanton’s SUV was packed with fellow students who had been drinking. “The T and Boston College students could have done a better job that night existing with each other, on the road and on the track.’’
But Stanton’s lawyer, Paul F. Walsh Jr., said his client was performing the critical role of a good and responsible friend: serving as a designated driver.
“Jane Stanton didn’t cause this accident,’’ said Walsh. “They maligned a poor freshman at BC who was doing the right thing. She was the designated driver. She’s a good kid. She feels awful.’’
The T pursued three criminal charges against Stanton, according to several authorities: operating a motor vehicle to endanger, a minor transporting alcohol, and leaving the scene of property damage. All charges were dismissed last Thursday in the closed-door hearing before Brighton District Court Clerk-Magistrate Patricia McDermott.
Stanton was held responsible and paid fines on three civil infractions‘ an open container of alcohol violation, impeded operation of a motor vehicle, and uniform stopping and turning. The impeded operation, officials say, was for having so many passengers in the car, and the uniform stopping and turning was for not having enough caution when she crossed the trolley tracks. Each carried a $35 fine, while the fine for the open container was $500.
All the passengers were also held responsible for the open container violation at a separate hearing.
On the night of the crash, the friends, freshmen at BC, dined at an Applebee’s, then attended a party near campus. There were seven passengers in the Jeep Cherokee, including three members of the national championship hockey team and one member of the women’s lacrosse team.
The trolley was traveling west on Commonwealth Avenue just after midnight as Stanton attempted to cross its path while making a U-turn. After the crash, some of the passengers in the Jeep fled the area, and Stanton drove another 500 feet before stopping. She suffered severe facial cuts and later told detectives she couldn’t remember anything about the accident. Detectives tracked down several passengers in the hospital. No trolley passengers were injured.
Angry T officials immediately said they would press charges and seek damages, and the storyline was indeed alluring: drunken BC kids cause mishap near campus. But within a month, with no public notice, Dieujuste was suspended for 10 days and sent to a retraining course.
Informed by the Globe yesterday that the trolley operator had been suspended and the BC driver had all criminal charges dismissed, BC spokesman Jack Dunn did nothing to hide his anger at T officials.
“The T, particularly the chief, painted it as drunken college students,’’ said Dunn. “The driver doesn’t drink. She was sober and making a legal turn.’’
Dunn said the students had always told BC officials that the trolley appeared to, in his words, “be flying out of nowhere.’’ He said they left the scene, dazed, to seek medical treatment.
Of the fact that underaged students were drinking, he said, “The student athletes are not blameless. While we’re pleased to hear that their account appears to be validated by the investigation, they still face university sanctions for underage drinking.’’
Walsh, Stanton’s lawyer, described “a rush to judgment,’’ saying, “I got frantic calls — ‘We want her medical records. We want toxicology tests. We want her cellphone records.’ Clean as a whistle. She was the designated driver. No alcohol, no drugs, no cellphone use, no texting.’’
Meantime, Davey, of the MBTA, defended Dieujuste’s hiring yesterday, even though the operator had three separate charges of violating traffic signals in Florida, as well as a speeding violation, since 2003. Under T policy, a driver cannot have two moving violations in the same year within three years of his or her hiring. Dieujuste joined the MBTA in 2008, so his past infractions did not fall within the window of the T’s policy.
Dieujuste had testified in a magistrate’s hearing in May that his driving record was clean. He then failed to attend the hearing against Stanton last week, during which McDermott reviewed his driving record, which included a license suspension.
“Under our policy, this was an appropriate hire,’’ Davey said, noting that Dieujuste has had no disciplinary record in his time at the T. “He had issues five, six, seven years ago. Not being forthcoming about it is something I’m not happy about.’’
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.