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MASS MoCA Director Arraigned On Vehicular Homicide, Marked Lane Violation Charges

A sign that says "T. William Lewis Building Northern Berkshire District Court 111 Holden Street"
Josh Landes

The founding director of MASS MoCA appeared in court this morning, 11 months after a fatal collision with a motorcyclist.

Joseph Thompson, 60, Mass Moca’s founding director, was arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court after a July 20th, 2018 collision between his car and a motorcyclist that left Steven Fortier, 49, dead.

Judge Paul M. Vrabel presided over the short proceedings, which took place just steps away from MASS MoCA on Holden Street.

Thompson faces a count of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation and a count of marked lanes violation.

In unsealed documents related to the case, Thompson and his passenger describe Fortier straying into the northbound lane on Church Street in North Adams. The pair allege that when both Thompson and Fortier moved into the southbound lane – Thompson to avoid the motorcyclist and Fortier to return to his proper lane – the collision occurred. Damage was found on the passenger side front door of Thompson’s car, as was evidence that the car was “far outside of the northbound lane as it should have been travelling.” The North Adams Police Department reported Fortier as having a blood alcohol level of approximately .28 percent. The legal limit is .08. Chief Jason Wood told WAMC earlier in June that alcohol was “not a factor” for Thompson in the crash.

Thompson appeared in court but did not say anything during or after the arraignment.

His attorney, Timothy Shugrue, said Thompson will plead not guilty and he anticipated filing a motion to dismiss after making motions of discovery and assessing the information around the case.

“It’s a misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanor charges do carry up to two and a half years in jail. Do I think this is a jail case? I don’t. But that’s what’s the maximum penalty is. I’m very, very confident that he’ll be found not guilty if he even gets that far. We’ll be filing a motion to dismiss, to have the judge review the show cause hearing afterwards because it was only done by a clerk and then we’ll have a judge actually review whether there was enough to charge him with the case," said Shugrue, who spoke to WAMC earlier in June. “Mr. Thompson did everything he possibly could to avoid the accident. You can imagine yourself driving down the road, seeing a vehicle coming straight at you at 10 o’clock at night, at a high rate of speed. The only maneuver he could make was to go to the left. That’s what he did.”

Shugrue says he wants to see whatever surveillance camera footage was available from the incident, though Chief Wood told WAMC earlier in June that no such footage existed.

No bail was set and Thompson was released on his own recognizance.

The next court date is a pretrial conference August 9th.

The MASS MoCA board of trustees released a statement saying both the board and staff “support our director in the resolution of this sad event.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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