Far from a no-show public employee, James E. Marshall was a two-show guy. Raised in public housing in Roxbury, he labored 80 hours a week to pull his family into the middle class.
Overnight, he fielded problem calls from tenants as a Boston Housing Authority dispatcher. By day, he drove on the Green Line, until fatigue apparently caught up with him and Marshall slammed his trolley into another, pinballing passengers, causing $500,000 in damage, and costing him his job.
“He’s devastated,” said a dispatcher who works alongside Marshall at Boston police headquarters, where dispatchers for several agencies share space. “He feels terrible about somebody getting injured.”
The Nov. 29 crash caused 37 people to be sent to the hospital with what the T termed minor to moderate injuries, and management fired Marshall Wednesday after MBTA investigators learned that he had been moonlighting.
Until then, Marshall, 46, appeared to be playing by the rules. When he was hired by the T in 2006, he told his Boston Housing Authority supervisor, as required, who approved his second job.
The MBTA has no such requirement, though drivers must be rested and alert. The Green Line is not automated, relying on operators to accelerate and brake in subway tunnels and at street level, where tracks intermingle with city traffic. Driving on little or no sleep shows “alarming disregard for customer and employee safety,” the T’s acting general manager, Jonathan R. Davis, said.
But Marshall had been balancing that job and his dispatching role for years, scratching out a combined salary of about $100,000, just over $40,000 at the housing authority, and $63,000 at the T.
If the work was thankless, he seldom ducked it. “You never get any drama,” said the fellow dispatcher. “He does his job, and he does it well.”
If neighbors in Brockton did not know him well, it was because Marshall kept to himself, but also because he always seemed to be working.
If his day job with the T had been as a custodian or customer service agent, Marshall might have remained anonymous, privately reprimanded for zoning out.
But he sought the streetcar motorman job specifically, applying through the MBTA’s employment lottery, according to T records.
Marshall was elated when his name came up for hiring by the T, neighbor John Pires recalled.
“He was like, ‘Oh, man, you don’t know how hard I’ve been trying to get this job!’ ” said Pires, who lives one street over from Marshall.
Pires, an amiable 58-year-old, had not succeeded in convincing Marshall to come fishing or to sign his son up for youth soccer.
He knew him only as James — he did a double-take at news of the crash — but always found his neighbor to be cheerful and friendly whenever he saw him working in the yard or walking his small dog. They had even lamented accidents involving other drivers.
Pires said Marshall and his wife have an adolescent son and grown daughters; the girls used to pass Pires’s house walking their younger brother to school.
Pires said he does not know Marshall’s wife well, but that she once helped him comfort and attend to a badly wounded teenager before first-responders arrived at the scene of a neighborhood crash.
Marshall could not be reached this week.
Raised in Roxbury’s Orchard Park projects, he joined the Boston Housing Authority at age 20 as a security guard for elderly residents.
“One thing about the residents, they’re very outspoken. If they have a problem with one of the safety officers, they will call the office and let us know,” said his first supervisor, who was not authorized to give her name because she is still employed by the housing authority. “We never had any calls relative to him.”
“From what I see and hear, he was always there, especially for his family, making sure they have a roof over their head,” his old boss said.
In Brockton, Pires said he could barely fathom shouldering Marshall’s workload for a few days, much less years. “Tired on the job? I just would have called in [sick] on that one,” Pires said.
Even after the crash, Marshall has continued to perform his job for the housing authority, amid sudden notoriety and a drastic loss of income.
“What can we do to try to help him get his job back?” Pires asked.