The estate of a Connecticut teenager who was struck and killed by a train in 2014 has filed a wrongful death suit against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and its former commuter rail contractor, alleging that the train’s engineer was looking down at her phone just before the crash.
Erick Dastas was killed in May 2014 in Grafton when he was hit by a train operated by Vicki Hayhurst, who worked for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, the MBTA’s former commuter rail operator, according to the lawsuit, filed last week in Suffolk Superior Court.
The suit contends that Hayhurst believed she had struck a deer and continued operating the train to Union Station in Worcester. An employee of MBCR or the MBTA reported that she had been using her cellphone before the crash, the suit claims.
“The same employee noted Hayhurst failed to activate the train lights and whistle in violation of standard operating procedure,” according to the suit.
Hayhurst operated the train with gross negligence by “entirely deviating from standard operating procedures and specifically, utilizing a cellphone,” the suit alleged.
Dastas’s mother, Marilyn DeLeon, is seeking about $3 million in damages.
DeLeon’s lawyer, Paul Tetzel, declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
The MBTA said it had not received the lawsuit. Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said the original police report from the incident did not include reports of a cellular phone. An official from MBCR, which exists only as a legal entity and no longer operates any commuter railroad, declined to comment.
The crash happened shortly before MBCR ended its longtime contract with the MBTA. The commuter rail is now operated by Keolis Commuter Services, which took over in July 2014.
The MBTA has long banned the use of cellphones while operating vehicles, but went even further in 2009 when a 24-year-old Green Line operator ran a red signal and rear-ended another trolley, injuring 49 people. The driver, Aiden Quinn, told authorities he had been text messaging his girlfriend at the time.
In response, the MBTA banned drivers from even carrying a cellphone during a shift.
The agency toughened its policy in 2014 after a crash that left a bus dangling over the Massachusetts Turnpike in Newton. In that incident, the driver was accused of having a cellphone in her hand when the bus slammed into a guardrail on the Washington Street overpass.
The MBTA later announced that any driver caught carrying a cellphone would be automatically suspended for 30 days and recommended for firing.Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.