BOSTON – A trolley driver who told authorities he was text messaging his girlfriend seconds before he plowed into another trolley, injuring more than 60 people, pleaded not guilty to gross negligence Monday as his lawyer criticized prosecutors for charging him under an obscure law.
Aiden Quinn was arraigned Monday in Suffolk Superior Court on a charge of gross negligence by a person in control of a train. He was released on personal recognizance.
Quinn, 24, did not speak to reporters after his appearance, but defense attorney James Sultan described Quinn as "very afraid" of the felony charge he's facing, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in state prison.
"His life has been shattered," Sultan said.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Treseler said Quinn's cell phone records show he attempted to make a call, then typed a text message on his cell phone in the seconds before Quinn's Green Line trolley crashed into the rear of another trolley beneath Government Center.
Treseler said Quinn told authorities after the May 8 crash that he had been typing a text message to his girlfriend and did not see a yellow light or a red light that he went through without stopping. Quinn applied the trolley's emergency break about eight feet before striking the trolley in front of him, Treseler said.
"A number of people were badly hurt ... there were people severely hurt," Treseler said, adding that one passenger suffered a broken pelvis, and many others suffered broken bones.
Sixty-two people were injured in the crash, which caused $9 million in damage.
Quinn was indicted under a Massachusetts law enacted in 1874.
Sultan said the law has rarely -- if ever -- been used and called it a "stretch" to charge him under the statute. He said Quinn's life "has been shattered" by the crash.
"Unfortunately, the district attorney's office has decided to use public resources and turned it into a criminal prosecution," Sultan said.
"Of course, he feels terribly remorseful about the injuries people suffered in this accident, but it doesn't mean he's a criminal who should go to prison."
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, said the age of the law is "irrelevant."
"I'm sure the murder statute is quite old as well," he said.
After the crash, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority fired Quinn and initiated a ban that prohibits its drivers from carrying cell phones and any other electronic devices on trains and buses.
Quinn's next court date is July 27.