A Wrentham District Court clerk declined to charge a 21-year-old driver with motor vehicle homicide after a 2017 fatal crash with a motorcycle in Foxborough, citing evidence from a closed-door hearing that the victim may have been impaired by drugs, the Globe has learned.
Prosecutors said they are appealing the ruling to a judge.
“In our view, probable cause exists to bring this case forward for arraignment,” said David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk County district attorney’s office.
The Wrentham court clerk’s office said Justice Thomas Finigan has agreed to hear the case, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.
According to State Police and court documents, Stephen Boyd, 56, of Millis, was riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle on Route 1, when Nicole Turinese, 21, who was headed in the opposite direction, turned left into a CrossFit Torque’s parking lot and the vehicles collided.
Boyd was thrown from the motorcycle and taken to Norwood Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from “blunt force trauma.” Turinese, who was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix, was unhurt.
After an investigation, State Police sought charges against Turinese for motor vehicle homicide by negligence, a misdemeanor. They also cited her for a “signal/sign/marking violation,” a civil infraction.
Turinese’s driving record shows she was found at least partly responsible for another crash in December 2014 that caused property damage. And she was cited for failing to signal and unsafe operation of a motor vehicle in North Attleborough in June 2017, just a month before the fatal crash.
But after a lengthy closed-door hearing last fall, assistant Wrentham District Court clerk Lesley Hazeldine found there wasn’t probable cause to think Turinese committed a crime in the Foxborough crash, citing a toxicology report that said Boyd had fentanyl and small amounts of morphine in his blood.
A defense witness, Dr. James Courtney, suggested the fentanyl in Boyd’s system was many times higher than a medical dose and could have slowed his reaction time when the crash occurred. Hazeldine also cited other evidence that raised questions about Boyd’s driving before the crash.
Hazeldine concluded Turinese’s actions “did not directly and substantially set in motion the entire chain of events resulting in the death of Stephen Boyd” and she dismissed the traffic ticket, according to a copy of the clerk’s ruling obtained from Turinese’s attorney.
In addition to the toxicology results, the clerk cited surveillance video that showed Boyd ran a red light and cut off another driver “just prior to the accident.”
State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed Boyd did not come to a full stop when he turned right onto Route 1, but pointed out that the intersection was at least a half mile from the crash site.
The clerk’s hearing was closed to the public and the Wrentham District Court clerk magistrate, Michelle L Kelley, rejected a request from the Globe to see any of the court files or listen to a recording of the hearing, saying she didn’t think public interest in the case outweighed the accused’s right to privacy. Court guidelines say the hearings are presumed to be private, but encourage clerks to open hearings in cases that have drawn media attention.
Boyd’s widow, Evelyn Boyd, told a private investigatorshe had hired to investigate the crash that even the couple’s children and a family friend, an attorney, were not permitted to attend the hearing.
“She had to sit there by herself,” said Martin Kraft, the private investigator Boyd hired to investigate the crash.
Evelyn Boyd did not return calls seeking comment.
Kelley, the Wrentham clerk magistrate, said the assistant clerk did not realize the couple’s children were in the courthouse and did not specifically tell them they could not attend the hearing, but said the proceeding was held in a room too small to accommodate everyone who showed up.
“The clerk tells me there were a lot of people in the hallway and she had to limit the number allowed in the hearing room,” Kelley said.
Turinese’s attorney, Mark Fabiano of Norwood, said his client did not wish to comment.
In September, the Globe Spotlight Team reported that Massachusetts is the only state in which clerks regularly decide at private hearings whether to charge adults with crimes. In other states, criminal court proceedings involving adults are almost always public.
Court administrators have defended the secrecy of the clerk-magistrate hearings, saying they are intended to protect the reputations of people accused of minor crimes. But court data showed that in the second half of 2017, one in eight charges considered in the hearings were felonies. And the Globe found even some of the misdemeanor cases, such as the Foxborough crash, involve cases where people were seriously injured or killed.
In order to bring criminal charges, police are generally required to present evidence that a crime probably had been committed, a significantly lower standard than what is needed to win a conviction, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
In many cases, clerks simply rely on a police report or brief testimony from a police officer to make a decision. But in this case, the hearing lasted for hours and included testimony from multiple state troopers and an expert witness.Todd Wallack can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.