Opening arguments ended Thursday in the trial of a man accused of killing two people when he crashed his vehicle into a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in 2016.
Brad Casler, 55, was charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide for the West Newton crash. The incident killed 57-year-old Eleanor Miele of Watertown and 32-year-old Gregory Morin of Newton. Seven other people were also injured in the crash.
Casler’s friend Jeffrey Lampert testified Casler abruptly ended a phone call with him moments before the crash.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
“We were talking and he said, ’I have to go, I have to go, I have to go!’ and then there was silence,” recalled Lampert.
Casler’s defense attorney Tom Giblin argued while this was a tragic accident, it was just that – an accident.
“Lives have been lost, others have been damaged and we can’t change that,” said Giblin, “car accidents happen, it doesn’t mean a crime has been committed.”
But Assistant District Attorney Chris Tarrant says Casler had multiple excuses for what may have led up to the crash.
Tarrant said, “He said he was only driving about 20-25 miles per hour, he told her that his brake was stuck, but he also reported of having multiple sclerosis.”
"The government will try to turn this case into a melodrama," Giblin said, "but that is not what this is about."
Giblin said Casler’s MS played a big role in this crash, contending in opening arguments Thursday that Casler's medical condition was the cause of the horiffic accident.
Giblin said, “No evidence will be shown that Mr. Casler intended or could have prevented this accident.”
But Tarrant argued that Casler was driving his SUV very fast, strattling the center line at points while maneurvering it around other cars at other points before he crashed into the restaurant.
"I expect that you will find that [police] analysis will show that the defendant was in control of his vehicle as he maneuvered the SUV around other cars in the roadway," Tarrant said.
Witness Ashley Tang said, “The car was going pretty fast, I didn’t see him brake, I thought he was trying to beat traffic."
Witness Mary Hoult said, “I heard a smash and glass crash and then I heard screaming and I realized that a car had driven through the front of my car and into the pizza shop.”
Following the opening statements, jurors left the courtroom to view the location of the deadly crash on Washington Street.
Marci Steinberger, a friend who has known Casler for over two decades, told NBC10 Boston it was tragic to watch the trial unfold.
"It's horrible. Heart-wrenching," Steinberger said. "He's a great guy."
Casler may take the stand in his own defense, but his attorney said that would only happen after the prosecution's evidence has been presented.
Casler and his lawyers have previously rejected a number of plea deals, including one that would have sent him to prison for two years.
The trial is expected to last about a week.