SUV driver acquitted in senior’s death, ‘tragedy’ that left judge with reasonable doubt
Ashley Monturio was acquitted on Tuesday of leaving the scene after she ran over and killed an 80-year-old woman in the parking lot of a Cambridgeport public housing project. Cambridge District Court Judge David Frank said the prosecution had not proven conclusively that Monturio knew she had hit Romelia Gallardo, who lived in the low-income LBJ flats development. And that was a critical requirement for conviction, he said.
The verdict in the packed Medford courtroom brought family members on both sides to tears. Thomas Hoopes, Monturio’s attorney, said: “It was just one of those cases that was just a tragedy.” One of Gallardo’s daughters said, “That’s not justice” before a court officer directed the family to the assistant district attorney’s office and blocked a reporter from continuing the interview.
Frank himself began his decision, delivered orally from the bench, by saying that “there is no doubt that what happened was a tragedy” and that Gallardo’s life ended “in circumstances really awful and awful”.
Monturio, 44, from Pembroke, was on her way to a job interview when she mistakenly drove into one of the car parks at the LBJ Apartments social housing development for the elderly in 150 Erie Street on September 6, 2018. She turned to leave and stopped at the exit as she tried to find the right location. Meanwhile, Gallardo had left the building through a side door into the parking lot and rolled his walker beside the passenger side of Monturio’s Infiniti SUV.
Then Gallardo turned in front of the SUV and leaned over, apparently to pick something up. Monturio came out of the parking lot, knocking Gallardo over with the passenger side front and rear wheels. Gallardo was 4-foot-10 and weighed 98 pounds, according to trial testimony.
Monturio pulled over on Erie Street after seeing Gallardo lying on the sidewalk and called 911, telling a dispatcher that a bleeding and unconscious woman was lying on the ground and she didn’t know what happened. had passed. When the dispatcher asked her to stay until help arrived, Monturio said others were on the scene and she had to leave for a job interview.
Police and rescuers responding to the scene initially thought Gallardo had fallen, but surveillance video clearly showed Monturio’s SUV rolling over the frail woman. This changed the tenor of the investigation, testified a police officer.
The driver’s gestures
Other trial testimony provided a more nuanced picture of Monturio’s actions. Monturio, who was about to be laid off from her human resources position at a biotech company, drove to her job interview less than a block from LBJ Apartments. When she turned on her mobile phone after the interview, a message from her husband said the police were looking for her.
She went to Cambridge Police Headquarters and told officers she did not know what happened. Police arrested her after first assuring her that she would not be arrested, according to testimonies. She voluntarily gave her phone to the police; police later obtained a search warrant but did not conduct a forensic search.
Monturio spoke on Monday and calmly described seeing nothing in front of her as she slowly pulled out of the Erie Street parking lot. “Why did you move forward? Hoopes asked him. “I didn’t see anything,” she said. At another point, she said, “I didn’t feel anything different than when I walked in [to the parking lot].”
Shortly after driving down Erie Street, “I saw a woman on the ground” in the parking lot, Monturio said. She stopped the car, turned back to the woman and asked if she could help her, she said. “She was unconscious, so I called 911,” Monturio said. When the dispatcher asked what happened, “I said I had no idea,” Monturio said. She not only answered the dispatcher’s questions, but relayed her instructions to people who had gathered around Gallardo, she said.
Finally, Monturio said, “I had passed on all the information I could.” The people around her “were, ‘Okay, we’ve got this.’ There was nothing more I could do.
During 25 minutes of cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Ashlee Mastrangelo could not shake Monturio from her claim that she did not know she hit Gallardo.
Hoopes, whose law firm specializes in white-collar crime and other high-end legal work, is a well-known Boston attorney. Hoopes had experts create a simulation of the crash that indicated Monturio couldn’t have seen Gallardo, check Monturio’s phone for deletions (there were none), confirm that searches GPS misidentified the parking address of the LBJ apartments and testified to the psychological processes that convinced people that something they hadn’t seen or felt hadn’t happened.
Yet in the end, Frank said he decided the case based on evidence from the transcript of Monturio’s 911 call and JFK Apartments surveillance video.
He cited court decisions holding that to convict a defendant of leaving the scene of a bodily injury, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had “actual knowledge” of a collision. “The issue is not what a reasonable person would know, but what the defendant actually knew,” Frank said.
“The court must make a decision on the state of mind of an accused”, but “it is impossible to examine the mind of an accused”, the judge said. This means the court must “examine the defendant’s actions and words,” Frank said.
Based on this, “this court has a reasonable doubt as to the knowledge of the defendant,” Frank said. And he acquitted Monturio.
It was Cambridge’s second major pedestrian death in a month in 2018, and in each one the driver was acquitted of motor vehicle charges. The other case occurred on Oct. 5 when a dump truck backing up at the intersection of Putnam Avenue and Magazine Street ran over 27-year-old Jie Zhao, who was crossing the intersection behind the truck.
In both cases, state police investigators concluded that the victims were to blame. The inquest into Gallardo’s death found the collision happened because she walked in front of the SUV without making sure Monturio could see her. In Zhao’s case, the state police concluded that the accident would not have happened if she had crossed with the light and been more careful.
The families of Gallardo and Zhao have brought civil claims against the drivers in Middlesex Superior Court. Safety advocates called for changes in vehicle size and design to protect pedestrians and said SUVs and other large vehicles are designed to protect occupants from other cars, not to keep pedestrians and pedestrians safe. cyclists. The dump truck that killed Zhao was equipped with a rear camera, but it was not working and was not required to work.