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Trial begins in Arborway wreck that left two paralyzed

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Nikolas Papadopoulos, right, stood with his attorney, John Amabile, during a break in court in Brighton on Wednesday.
Nikolas Papadopoulos, right, stood with his attorney, John Amabile, during a break in court in Brighton on Wednesday.(Pat Greenhouse)

The driver in a devastating 2013 car crash that left two people paralyzed was driving at "highway speeds" when his SUV swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with a pickup truck, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Nikolas Papadopoulos, 20, was driving over 50 miles per hour on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain when he lost control of his car, well over the 30 mile-per-hour limit, a prosecutor told a jury in the first day of Papadopoulos's trial for negligent driving.

"He chose to drive at highway speeds on a parkway," Montez Haywood, a Suffolk County prosecutor, said in his opening statement. The crash occurred after Papadopoulos quickly passed a driver on the right, then lost control as he navigated a curve.

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His car clipped the median and began to roll before crashing into a car driven by Kevin Cellucci, a married father of three. Cellucci was left critically injured, unable to walk or communicate on his own.

A teenager who was a passenger in Papadopoulos's car was left paralyzed and will never walk again.

In November 2014, Papadopoulos had signaled his intention to accept responsibility for the crash and avoid a trial. But after learning that he would be sentenced to a year in jail, he abruptly withdrew his plea.

His change of heart came after Cellucci's wife, Tina, addressed the court by video.

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

If convicted, Papadopoulos, a student at UMass Lowell, could serve two years in jail.

In a Brighton courtroom, his lawyer, John Amabile, said Papadopoulos was not criminally negligent, and described the crash as a "terrible tragedy."

"He's innocent of the charges," he said. The prosecution's case will fall "woefully short," of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he added.

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Amabile said there was no posted speed limit on that stretch of the Arborway, and that the accident happened after Papadopoulos swerved to avoid another driver.

"It was a third party that caused him to take evasive action," he said.

Papadopoulos was not impaired or distracted, Amabile said. He'd had his license for three months before the crash, which happened in light, early-afternoon traffic.

On the day of the crash, Papadopoulos was driving three friends home from Boston Latin Academy.

One of them, Mark Delamere, suffered traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

In testimony Wednesday, Delamere, who is 17, said he played four sports before the crash, and recalled Papadopoulos apologizing to him.

"He told me he was sorry," Delamere said.

At a hearing in November 2014, a lawyer representing Papadopoulos said that he had suffered a serious brain injury and had no memory of the crash.

Another passenger in Papadopoulos's car said he believed the car was going at a normal speed when the crash occurred.

Mark Glynn, who was riding with Cellucci, said he saw the car driven by Papadopoulos swerve one way, then the other, before crashing over the median and into their pickup truck, a terrible collision he likened to a "wartime explosion."

"It was one of the loudest noises I've ever heard," he said.

After the crash, he asked Cellucci if he could believe what had happened, but Cellucci was unconscious. Glynn got out of the truck and saw that "the whole front seemed to be missing." He held Cellucci's head up to help him breathe until medics arrived.

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Susan Rook, a paramedic who lives near the site of the crash, said she heard "long, loud, screeching tires," followed by a long pause, then a horrific sound. She ran out to find two young men lying still in the road.


Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.