Joseph Thompson, founding director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, was found not guilty by a jury Thursday of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation.
Thompson, who led the North Adams museum for three decades, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge stemming from a July 2018 crash that killed 49-year-old motorcyclist Steven Fortier.
Reached at his home in Adams, Thompson said he felt a “lightening” as the jury delivered its verdict.
“There’s just been a sort of heavy load for four years and two months and two days,” said Thompson. “I feel extremely thankful that I was fortunate to have a circle of friends and resources around me that allowed me to engage fine legal representation and deeply qualified experts to refute what was clearly a baseless charge.”
During the trial, which began Monday at the district court in Pittsfield, Thompson told jurors he encountered Fortier around 10 p.m. while driving northbound in his SUV to an event in North Adams. He said the motorcyclist, who was traveling southbound, crossed into the northbound lane as he rounded a bend.
Thompson was traveling with Mass MoCA’s former director of communications Jodi Joseph. He testified that objects on the right side of the road forced him to turn sharply left into the southbound lane to avoid a collision.
“There was nowhere to go to the right,” Thompson, 63, told jurors, according to The Berkshire Eagle. “The motorcycle was going that way anyway.”
As Thompson turned and braked, Fortier tried to correct his own course, defense attorney Timothy Shugrue told jurors, fatally slamming into the passenger-side front wheel of Thompson’s Audi SUV.
“It was an ungodly, violent, loud impact,” Thompson told jurors, according to the Eagle. “I did everything I could.”
Assistant District Attorney Stuart Weissman had argued that it was Thompson who caused the crash, negligently driving in Fortier’s lane.
Both Thompson and Joseph testified that they had not consumed alcohol prior to the crash. Fortier’s blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.
The four-day trial had been scheduled for June, but Judge Jennifer Tyne declared a mistrial after a bus carrying jurors to the crash site was in a collision of its own.
The new panel of six jurors deliberated for fewer than two hours before delivering the not guilty verdict.
“It was a horrible accident,” said Thompson, who called the young son Fortier left behind a “tragic victim” of the crash. “But I was always 100 percent comfortable in my mind and soul that I did everything I could to avoid that accident.”
Malcolm Gay can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.