Over a year and one federal investigation after the Green Line collision that injured 27 riders in 2021, the train’s operator stood on trial in Brighton District Court for his allegedly negligent role in the crash.
“This was a bad accident,” said defense attorney Matthew Peterson in his opening argument. “People were hurt. People were scared. Rightfully so. We all rely on the T to get us around safely. But it was an accident. Sometimes an accident is just an accident.”
Train operator Owen Turner, 51, was charged with gross negligence of a person in control of a train and gross negligence of a person having care of a common carrier in September 2021.
On July 30, 2021, Turner was operating a Green Line trolley on the B Branch between the Park Street and Boston College stops. After leaving the St. Paul Street station around 6 p.m., Turner’s trolley rear-ended another train at a high rate of speed, sending 27 people to the hospital.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation released last week revealed the trolley Turner was operating accelerated up to 33 mph in a 10 mph speed limit zone and the operator did not apply the brakes before colliding with the other car.
The report concluded the accident was caused because Turner was “not engaged in his duties” and speculated the driver became “momentarily unaware of his situation.”
The defense’s case pointed out evidence shows Turner did not have alcohol or drugs in his system and was not using his phone. Witnesses also noted his normal behavior that day and cooperation with the investigation, Peterson highlighted.
The unexplained momentary blackout alone, Peterson suggested, does not constitute gross negligence.
“Mr. Turner neglected his duties as a motor person and instead disregarded certain safety protocols in regards to staying too close to other trolleys and consequently crashed his train into another,” ADA Daniel Addady contended.
The commonwealth’s case used several other train operators to describe safety training and protocols and their recollection of the accident.
“There was a loud bang,” said train operator Takisha King when asked to describe the incident. “Passengers screaming. Passengers displaced. Very bloody.”
A detective also testified to a couple of inconsistencies in his statements after the collision, including whether he fell asleep at the wheel — Turner eventually said he “believed” he’d fallen asleep — and came to a stop at a prior intersection.
Turner has also had eight recorded disciplinary actions, including two accidents in which a trolley hit a vehicle and two reports of speeding, according to the federal report. This history was not mentioned at the trial.
Defense brought forth a doctor to describe the many reasons someone can lose consciousness, and a passenger on the train that day who noted an “alert and composed” Turner helping riders after the crash.
The case will continue Wednesday morning with closing arguments.