Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins announced Thursday that in one of her final acts in the office she is launching a criminal investigation into the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority following last summer's Green Line crash.
Green Line trolley operator Owen Turner was charged with negligence last fall in connection with the July 30, 2021, trolley crash. The crash occurred around 6 p.m. when two trains on the Green Line collided on Commonwealth Avenue, injuring 27 people aboard, including four train operators.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the driver had put the trolley in "full-power position" before rear-ending the other vehicle. The MBTA announced that same day that it was taking steps to fire the driver.
“Mr. Owen was operating at three times the speed limit at the time of the crash. As his colleagues and supervisors were aware, he had a reputation for speeding and a history of violations," Rollins said in a statement. "The MBTA had a duty to address its employee’s reckless behavior. The agency failed to fulfill its legal obligation to take meaningful action in light of the real safety risk these acts created. We will be looking into whether the T’s behavior, or lack thereof, merits criminal action.”
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An MBTA representative said Thursday that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation, but noted that it's working to install collision avoidance technology on the Green Line.
"The MBTA has been cooperating with the District Attorney's Office since the summer, and the T will continue to do so," they said in a statement. "Following September's preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board, the MBTA acted swiftly to address the conduct of the train operator, who was responsible for the collision. The MBTA will continue to emphasize safety in its employee training programs, and the T will hold any employees accountable for actions that adversely impact service or customer safety."
Under state law, to prove corporate liability, prosecutors must show an individual committed a criminal offense, that individual must have been involved in the business to be charged, and the individual must have been vested with authority to act on behalf of the business. Rollins said her office has previously charged multiple employers in this manner.
“When an employer willfully turns a blind eye to one of their employee’s dangerous and reckless actions, they become complicit in behavior. When those employee’s actions rise to the level of criminal conduct, there are circumstances where an employer can and should also be held criminally responsible for the acts of an employee,’’ Rollins said. “Owen Turner presents one of those circumstances.”
The district attorney also cited several other recent "failures and tragedies" involving the MBTA, including a jogger who died after falling on an unsafe staircase at JFK Station and an incident where dozens of individuals were sent tumbling backward down a malfunctioning escalator at Back Bay Station, injuring multiple people.
"State agencies are accountable to the public they serve. And this two-month period shows that we deserve better from the MBTA," Rollins said. "When their acts and omissions put the safety of community members and their own employees at risk, sometimes the only means of driving change is through the courts, and public demands for action. That is why we make this formal announcement today.”
Rollins is leaving her job as district attorney this week and is scheduled to be sworn in as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts on Monday.