According to Suffolk County prosecutors, Nikolas Papadopoulos was driving his Mazda Tribute at least 59 miles per hour on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain in September of 2013, when something went tragically wrong. His car hit a raised curb, began to roll, and then struck a pickup truck driven by Kevin Cellucci. As a result of the accident, several people sustained catastrophic injuries.
The Boston Globe reported that Papadopoulos attempted to resolve his case yesterday, in which he is charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, by way of a plea. However, when the judge told the now 19-year-old U-Mass Lowell student that she would send him to jail for a year, Papadopoulos withdrew his plea and the case was scheduled for trial on March 3rd.
This case illustrates the difficult legal question of what the appropriate punishment is for a defendant who negligently causes unspeakable injuries to innocent victims. In Massachusetts, most crimes require the prosecutor to prove that the defendant intentionally committed an act. For example, a drug dealer intends to sell drugs and a thief intends to steal the property of another person. But in a case like this, there is no question that Papadopoulos did not intend to cause any of the injuries that resulted from the car accident. Under Massachusetts law, negligence is defined as failing to use due care, or act as a reasonably prudent person would act. It is the Commonwealth’s theory in this case that Papadopoulos did not drive as a reasonably prudent person would have driven. Under Massachusetts law, an accident is not necessary to prove a negligent operation case. For example, many people are charged with negligent operation in road rage incidents that do not result in collisions. Conversely, a motorist who is involved in an accident is not necessarily negligent – some accidents occur without any of the drivers operating negligently.
This case is unique in that the alleged negligent operation resulted in life-changing injuries for some of the occupants of the cars. According to his wife, Kevin Cellucci cannot walk, stand, talk, eat, or communicate on his own. The Celluccis have three sons. In Papadopoulos’s car was a high school freshman who was ejected from the vehicle and sustained traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. He will never walk again. According to his lawyer, Papadopoulos himself suffered a serious brain injury and does not remember the accident. According to the Globe, Papadopoulos had had his license for only three months prior to the crash.
According to his attorney, Papadopoulos feels shame and guilt about the accident. His attorney asked the judge to sentence him to a lengthy period of probation. The judge said she agreed the prosecutor’s recommendation – two years in jail with one year to be served and the balance suspended – was reasonable given the “absolutely catastrophic effects” of his driving and the accident. If he is convicted of negligent operation of a motor vehicle after trial, Papadopoulos faces a maximum penalty of two years in the House of Correction. Whatever the outcome, there is no question that this accident forever changed the lives of everyone involved.