NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph C. Thompson, 60, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges related to a fatal collision on July 20, 2018.
He is charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation and a marked lanes violation in the death of Steven Fortier, 49.
Thompson, director of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, was arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court and released on personal recognizance. A pretrial conference was set for Aug. 9.
According to police reports made available Wednesday, Fortier was southbound on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle at about 10 p.m. when he collided with Thompson's northbound Audi sport utility vehicle.
Thompson and his passenger, Jodi Joseph, the museum's director of communications, told police that they were on Church Street and approaching south of the fork with Ashland Street when they saw a single headlight in their northbound lane. Thompson said he veered into the southbound lane in an attempt to avoid the motorcycle but believed Fortier corrected his direction and re-entered his lane, striking the Audi.
The charges were brought after the completion of the investigation and a show-cause hearing in May before Clerk-Magistrate Kenneth Chaffee, who determined there was sufficient evidence to move forward with criminal charges.
"Because intent is not an essential element of vehicular homicide, the defense of accident is not available," he wrote. "In hindsight, Thompson's choice to maneuver his vehicle into the southbound lane, rather than stop or drive elsewhere, resulted in the collision and the death of Fortier."
Toxicology tests show that Fortier had a blood alcohol level of .28 percent, or more than four times the legal limit. Chaffee wrote that did "not excuse the defendant's conduct."
The police report states that after the collision, Thompson told Joseph to call 911 and, after getting out of the car to check on Fortier with other unidentified people, returned to the Audi and drove with a flat tire back into the northbound lane and parked it in the breakdown lane with its hazard lights on.
Police arrived within a few minutes and found Fortier still alive but face down on the pavement in the northbound lane with serious injuries, including head and facial trauma. He had been wearing an open face helmet; his helmet, boots and vest were scattered with the debris from the collision.
Two witnesses at the scene told police they thought Thompson had tried to flee the scene. One said Thompson had attempted to move the Audi "in a rapid manner" and that he had told him not to leave. Neither could clarify their impressions to state Trooper Zachary Wood other than "they believed by the way he attempted to operate the Audi he was trying to leave."
Officer David Sherman, who wrote the report, said it appeared that Fortier had collided with the "A" pillar on the passenger side of the Audi, the part of the frame where the door attaches to the front end. There was heavy damage to the passenger door, frame and windshield as well as the flat tire.
The police determined that Thompson had crossed the double yellow line and was in the southbound lane at the time of the collision.
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