Joseph A. Boncore, the unopposed Democratic nominee for a Boston-area state Senate seat and a lawyer who has defended drunken-driving suspects, is being sued for colliding with a police cruiser in East Boston in March 2011 after a night during which he drank alcohol.
Boncore, who says he had two drinks before the crash, was found not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol by a Boston jury in 2012. But the officer whose cruiser was hit, Fred Lane, is suing him, alleging negligence. The civil case, set to go to trial in September, could be a political headache for the 33-year-old newcomer to state politics.
Although Boncore won a special Democratic primary election against six opponents last month and is expected to easily win the special election on May 10, he is poised to again face voters — and perhaps opponents — in the September Democratic primary.
Boncore was arrested in the early morning hours of March 9, 2011, in East Boston and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, after getting into a crash with Lane, court records show.
A campaign spokesman for Boncore, Peter Ryan, said in a statement that Boncore had dinner and two alcoholic drinks with friends in the four or five hours before the accident.
“More than four years ago, a jury of six Massachusetts residents, made aware of the specific details of the case — including an EMT’s professional opinion that Joe was not impaired at the time of the accident — unanimously found Joe not guilty of driving under the influence. Joe decided to forgo the Breathalyzer, as is his legal right, and requested the jury trial himself,” Ryan said.
Lane was trapped in his cruiser when emergency workers arrived, according to the police report of Boncore’s arrest, which says it recounts the observations of police officers, witnesses, and an EMS supervisor. Lane was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment, the report said. Boncore was unsteady on his feet, the smell of alcohol emanated from his breath, his speech was slurred, and he gave a police sergeant a “debit/credit card” when asked for his driver’s license, the police report said.
In a jury trial, Lane and other Boston police officers testified, court files show. A motion to exclude evidence concerning Boncore’s refusing a field sobriety test and a Breathalyzer was allowed.
Carmine Lepore, who served as Boncore’s criminal lawyer, said the testimony of the police officer who most strongly alleged Boncore appeared impaired was contradicted by the testimony of other officers.
Lepore said he thought among the most convincing parts of the trial for the jury was the testimony of the EMT who said Boncore did not appear to be inebriated at the scene of the crash.
For the jury of six people, “I don’t even think it was a close call,” Lepore said.
They found Boncore not guilty.
Lane subsequently sued Boncore for damages, alleging that as a direct result of Boncore’s negligence, Lane suffered injuries to his head, back, neck, hand, and knee. In his complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Lane says he has incurred medical expenses in excess of $11,000 and sustained a loss of earnings and impaired earning capacity of more than $36,000 while he was disabled. The officer also says he suffered physical and emotional pain.
Boncore, filings show, denies that he was negligent and denies that Lane is entitled to any judgment or damages. Boncore asserts that the Boston EMS worker “is expected to testify at trial consistent with her previous sworn testimony that the defendant did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of her evaluation.”
He alleges in the civil filings that Lane failed to yield the right of way to him and the vehicles collided. And Boncore says the evidence will show that Lane “completely and quickly”recovered from the accident without complications.
Lane’s lawyer, Scott D. Goldberg, said the facts in the civil case “will establish that attorney Boncore chose to drive his car after drinking at several bar-restaurants, attempted a left turn in front of Lane’s cruiser, and then crashed into the cruiser in the early hours of the morning. We will present several witnesses who will testify that Mr. Boncore smelled of alcohol, had glassy eyes and slurred speech, and was unsteady on his feet.”
Goldberg said he is confident the jury will find Boncore negligent and hold him responsible.
Because the case is civil, not criminal, the burden of proof is different. In the criminal trial, in which Boncore was found not guilty, the state needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was operating a motor vehicle on a public road while under the influence of alcohol.
In the civil trial, set to begin Sept. 19, Lane needs to prove that it is “more likely than not” that Boncore breached his “duty of reasonable care” as a driver and that that breach caused Lane’s injuries. Lane doesn’t need to prove Boncore was above the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving, rather that Boncore failed to exercise reasonable care when driving.
Ryan, the campaign spokesman, framed the suit as “a civil case, filed 18 months ago, [that] remains ongoing between insurance companies.”
Two other Democrats besides Boncore had pulled nomination papers for the Senate seat as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office. That’s an indication they are considering a run in the regularly scheduled September primary, different from the special primary Boncore won last month.
The state Senate district includes Winthrop, Revere, a chunk of Cambridge, and several neighborhoods in Boston, including Beacon Hill, the North End, and East Boston.
The seat became open after East Boston Democrat Anthony W. Petruccelli resigned to become a lobbyist.