SOMERSET — A Fall River man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to fatally running over a 65-year-old man crossing the road in his electric wheelchair and then fleeing the scene, in a crime that left the town stunned.
Richard Reis, 35, was charged at his arraignment in Fall River District Court with leaving the scene of an accident late Friday that resulted in the death of James Moore, police said. Reis was held on $10,000 cash bail.
Somerset police found Moore at 11:43 p.m. Friday, apparently knocked out of his wheelchair, lying on Read Street close to Southway Drive, about a quarter-mile from Moore’s residence at the Eugene Murphy Village housing development.
Police Chief Joseph C. Ferreira said Reis initially stopped after his car struck Moore, but then left the scene.
“Mr. Reis tells us that he struck Mr. Moore and he got out of his car and spoke to the car behind him,” Ferreira said.
When Reis realized that the occupants of that car did not see him hit Moore, he left, police said.
“Mr. Reis thought to himself, ‘Boy, they didn’t see that I hit him.’ He got in his car and he left the scene,” Ferreira said. “I think he was scared. . . . No one can use that as a justifiable reason, and it is incredibly disappointing someone would do that and leave a crippled man knocked out of his wheelchair to die in the street.”
Ferreira said that a piece of Reis’s front bumper recovered from the scene allowed investigators to narrow their search to 1998 and 1999 Toyota Avalons.
The piece “had part numbers, so we zeroed in on it,” he said. “We ran every single registered 1998 and 1999 Toyota Avalon. We just kept branching out and branching out until we got the one we needed.”
On Tuesday afternoon, reverse 911 calls were made to residents in Somerset and the nearby area.
After receiving that call, Reis’s wife called police and said that Reis’s father owned an Avalon matching the description.
“She said the vehicle had some damage to the right front end and it had been the victim of a hit-and-run in front of their house” in Fall River, Ferreira said.
The police chief believes that Reis’s wife genuinely thought the car had been hit in front of her house because Reis had told her that.
Detectives interviewed Reis and subsequently arrested him Tuesday.
“His story to us has been that he worked until 11 p.m. and came to Somerset to watch the Bruins game,” Ferreira said.
The chief said Reis stayed home all weekend and called in sick Monday to the pizza restaurant where he worked.
He also said there is no indication that alcohol was involved in the crash, but detectives are looking at Reis’s cellphone history to see if he may have been distracted behind the wheel.
State Police are reconstructing the crash to determine how fast Reis was driving when he allegedly hit Moore, police said.
Residents at Eugene Murphy Village said Moore, who many knew as Jimmy, did not let the fact that he used a wheelchair stop him from getting around town.
“He was all over the place. He was always asking if he could help or if you needed something at the CVS,” said Evelyn Robert, 85, who said she knew Moore for about 20 years. “He talked to everybody, and everybody liked him. Everyone misses him already.”