Emotions hung heavy in Suffolk Superior courtroom 808 Wednesday, as lawyers and witnesses rehashed again and again the series of events that led a van to fatally careen into 22-month-old Colin McGrath in 2018.
“The emergency’s at L Street and East 6th,” a man’s frantic voice on a 911 call from four years ago rang out through the tense, packed courtroom. “A car crashed into a baby in a carriage on the sidewalk.”
The call was among the first evidence entered on the opening day of Charlene Casey’s trial.
Casey, 64, was driving her Toyota Prius at the intersection of East 6th and L streets in Southie on that July day. Rushing through the intersection, she allegedly mowed into a large green van, causing it to spin out into Colin McGrath, his 4-year-old sister and their nanny.
The sister sustained serious injuries including broken bones and a lacerated liver but survived. The nanny was reportedly not seriously injured.
Casey was charged with homicide by motor vehicle and pleaded not guilty in 2019.
“Four seconds on that day in July changed everyone’s life,” said Casey’s defense attorney Steven Boozang, calling the incident a “tragic and freak, unforeseeable accident.”
The opening statements laid out differing accounts of those crucial moments — outlining details like the precise location of the drivers, their sightline, their speed, their state of mind.
“You’re gonna see evidence that will show that that van came out of nowhere and sped up, colliding with Ms. Casey,” Boozang said.
Boozang emphasized the driver of the van had marijuana in the car and told “conflicting stories” to the police and grand jury.
“(Casey) could see for blocks — a clear, unobstructed line of sight for blocks,” said Assistant District Attorney David McGowan. “The quickest glance left, and she could not miss this large, green tank of a van.
“We’re here today because the defendant was negligent and did not operate her car safely,” he continued. “She could have seen this van. She should have seen this van.”
Witnesses Wednesday included drivers and pedestrians who responded to the accident and aided the injured children, as well as first responders on the scene.
“I began CPR on the small child and started the compressions first,” said witness Mary Kate Shea, crying and breathless as she recounted the experience. “Just kept talking to Colin, telling him his family loved him, we loved him and to keep fighting.”
Witnesses’ accounts of the accident itself conflicted frequently — whether the van bounced off the fence or stopped short, whether Casey paused at the intersection or rolled through.
“It was actually like a perfect storm,” said Martin Scott McDonald, a driver at the scene who made the 911 call.
The roads were still wet from the recent rain, McDonald and others concurred. Traffic was heavy along the commute. Street cleaning cleared out the parked cars normally blocking off the sidewalk.
“Then it all came together very, very quickly,” McDonald said, speaking slowly. “The car was small, and the van was very heavy. And I believe the Prius struck the rear passenger side panel, just enough to bump it. It was kind of like slow motion; it just fishtailed enough due to the wet conditions.”
The van’s driver, Michael Racioppi, also took the stand Monday. Through rigorous questioning from the defense, Racioppi maintained he was not under the influence of drugs during the incident and was going the speed limit, “between 20 and 25.”
Both sides highlighted the importance of upcoming video of the scene and the police reconstruction experts’ testimony. McGowan emphasized a police investigation had determined Casey’s operator error caused the accident.
“Don’t be distracted from the obvious,” McGowan told the jury. “Charlene Casey’s negligence killed Colin McGrath.”