Texting trolley driver admits guilt in Mass. crash

A subway driver who authorities say was texting his girlfriend just before his trolley slammed into the back of another one near an underground station, injuring more than 60 people, pleaded gui...

A subway driver who authorities say was texting his girlfriend just before his trolley slammed into the back of another one near an underground station, injuring more than 60 people, pleaded guilty Wednesday and was sentenced to probation.

Aiden Quinn appeared in Suffolk Superior Court to plead guilty to gross negligence by a person in control of a common carrier. Judge Carol Ball sentenced him to two years probation and 100 hours of community service.

Quinn admitted typing a text message to his girlfriend just before the May 2009 rush-hour crash at the Government Center subway stop, prosecutors said. He ran through yellow and red warning lights and into the two-car train ahead of his. He was later fired.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Treseler asked Ball to sentence Quinn to six months in jail followed by probation, pointing to the injuries and cost of the accident.

Treseler said approximately 65 riders on the two trains sought medical care for injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to broken bones.

"Two 80-ton trains collided because Mr. Quinn wanted to text his girlfriend," Treseler said. "He put the lives of a number of people in jeopardy."

Post-accident repairs ended up costing up to $10 million, he said.

If the case had gone to trial, Treseler said prosecutor were ready to present evidence showing Quinn missed one yellow signal and two red signals and only hit the brakes after noticing the reflection of the rear lights of the stopped train in front of his.

Quinn's lawyer, James Sultan, argued against jail time, calling the accident a "one-time event" for an otherwise cautious person. He said Quinn has suffered too, losing his dream job and becoming a person of notoriety. Quinn has also received threats, he said.

"He is a good person with a good, strong character who made a mistake," Sultan said. "I don't think the public needs to be protected from Aiden Quinn."

Quinn did not speak during the hearing except to answer questions from the judge asking if he wanted to change his plea to guilty and if he understood the consequences.

Quinn submitted a one-page letter to the court, saying he was deeply sorry for the pain and expense caused by his carelessness.

"Not a day goes by where I am not reminded of the suffering that my actions caused and the broad impact of my accident," he wrote. "I pray that one day I will be able to make amends in some ways to the affected persons."

Statements from three riders were read in court.

In one, Ellen Repetto said she and her husband were on their way to see a concert by the blues singer Etta James when the trains collided. Repetto said she was thrown forward, hit her head on a metal rail and blacked out.

"What I do remember is suddenly being surrounded by chaos and stunned fear in a dark, enclosed space," Repetto wrote. "It took a while to realize that my chin was bleeding, and it was several hours before I understood that a hole had been punched through my face."

Still, Repetto wrote that jail time seemed excessive for "an act of stupidity."

While the plea deal wraps up the criminal case against Quinn, Sultan said his client still faces several civil lawsuits as a result of the accident.

After the crash, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority imposed a strict ban on operators possessing cell phones or other devices on the job. Twenty-two MBTA employees, including bus and train workers, have been discharged or suspended under the new policy.

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