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Man withdraws admission of responsibility for devastating 2013 crash

As a video documenting the crash that shattered the life of a Dorchester father was coming to an end Friday, a packed courtroom watched intently as Kevin Cellucci's wife looked into the camera and named the man blamed for the tragedy.

In the video, Tina Cellucci sat next to her husband, a 34-year-old father of three, who once played tirelessly with his sons and now cannot talk, walk, eat, stand, or communicate on his own. She spoke of the deep pain the family has endured.

Watching Cellucci's story from the defendant's table in the courtroom Friday was Nikolas Papadopoulos, 19, who was there to accept responsibility for the Sept. 6, 2013, crash on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain that injured Cellucci and five other people, including Papadopoulos and a 14-year-old boy who was paralyzed.


Then the proceeding took a dramatic turn.

Within minutes, Papadopoulos withdrew his plea and asked for a trial. The move came after Judge Mary Ann Driscoll announced she planned to sentence the Boston Latin Academy graduate to two years in jail with one year to serve, the punishment recommended by prosecutors.

Papadopoulos had planned to offer a plea to sufficient facts, before he announced he would instead opt for a trial.

A March 3 trial date was set for Papadopoulos, who is charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle. If convicted, he would face two years in jail.

Cellucci's family came to the courthouse Friday expecting an end to the case, but they knew his expected plea was not a certainty.

"They were well briefed by the district attorney's office that it was still up to Mr. Papadopoulos and his decision," said their lawyer, Shawn O'Rourke.

Cellucci's family and Papadopoulos left the West Roxbury division of the Boston Municipal Court without commenting.

Brian Cellucci and Maureen Cellucci, the brother and mother of accident victim Kevin Cellucci, were at the hearing.
Brian Cellucci and Maureen Cellucci, the brother and mother of accident victim Kevin Cellucci, were at the hearing.Patrick Whittemore/Pool

In the video, Tina Cellucci said: "Mr. Papadopoulos will never understand the pain and harm his actions caused Kevin, our sons, our families, and me. This may end for Mr. Papadopoulos. But there is never an end for Kevin and us."


Suffolk County prosecutors say Papadopoulos was traveling at least 59 miles per hour on the Arborway when the 2003 Mazda Tribute he was driving clipped a raised concrete curb dividing the state road, began to roll, and then collided with an oncoming pickup truck driven by Cellucci.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Montez Haywood said Papadopoulos was driving at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. He said the sport utility vehicle Papadopoulos was driving landed on Cellucci's Ford F-150 pickup truck.

"The injuries to the victims were catastrophic," Haywood said.

In the SUV with Papadopoulos were three other Boston Latin Academy students, including Mark Delamere, then a freshman who was ejected from the vehicle and suffered traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, prosecutors said.

Delamere, who is now 16, uses a wheelchair and will never walk again, his parents, Mark and Sheila Delamere, wrote in a letter to the court.

Delamere and another 14-year-old boy who was injured were not wearing seat belts, Haywood said. Cellucci and his passenger were wearing seat belts, Suffolk County prosecutors have said.

Driscoll said she would not normally sentence someone to jail time for a first-time motor vehicle offense, but in this instance it was appropriate.

"Given all the circumstances and the absolutely catastrophic effects his driving in that 30-second interval leading up to it had on the people who were injured and their families, I quite honestly . . . think the Commonwealth's recommendation is a reasonable one," she said.


Before his client reversed course and decided to withdraw his plea, Papadopoulos's lawyer, Robert Tobin Jr., recommended a lengthy probation period.

He said Papadopoulos, now a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, feels "shame and guilt" over the crash every day. Papadopoulos suffered a "serious brain injury" and has no memory of the crash, Tobin said.

"To send him to jail, I don't know what it accomplishes," he said. "If he goes to jail, there's a stigma to that. Now he's a jail bird for the rest of his life."

Tobin argued the cause of the crash was not speed but Papadopoulos's decision to cut the wheel to the right and then make a "left motion to overcorrect."

Papadopoulos had had his license for three months before the crash.

Tobin also said State Police reported a third vehicle left tire marks on the road and was believed to be tied to the incident, but it could not be located. Haywood disputed this, saying investigators determined the tire marks were from a previous incident.

Tobin declined repeated requests to comment Friday.

In their letter to the court, Delamere's parents described the guilt they said their son has over Cellucci's fate.

"Even though Mark was in the back seat at the time of the accident, he for some reason feels responsible for the driver of the other car," they wrote.


Before the crash, Cellucci was an active man, who played hockey and baseball with his sons Stephen, 5, and Declan, 4. His youngest son, Paul, was about 8 weeks old when the crash occurred.

Tina Cellucci said she is sickened by the "confusion and frustration" she sees her husband struggling with daily.

"When I see him I feel like I'm watching my husband buried alive trying to figure his way out and no one can hear him and no one can help him," she said.


9/6/13 | Video: Two suffer life-threatening injuries

9/18/13: Teen charged in Arborway crash

Pictures: Arborway collision

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.