Metro

Newton man wasn’t told not to drive before fatal pizza shop crash, attorney says

Bradford Casler (left) sat next to his attorneyThomas Giblin in court Thursday.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Bradford S. Casler (left) sat next to his attorney,Thomas E. Giblin III, in court Thursday.

WOBURN — The Newton man behind the wheel of an SUV that plowed into a pizza shop in March 2016, killing two customers, hurriedly ended a phone call with a friend moments before the crash, telling him “I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go,” the friend testified Thursday.

“And there was silence, and then I hung up,” Jeffrey Lampert, 60, said during the first day of the trial of his college friend, Bradford S. Casler, on motor vehicle homicide charges.

What happened next, prosecutors say, was an act of criminal negligence by Casler, who crashed his car into Sweet Tomatoes pizzeria in Newton shortly after 6:10 p.m. on March 1, 2016, killing Eleanor Miele, 57, and Gregory Morin, 32. Several others were injured.

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“I just saw [the SUV] go through the two cement barricades, and it was a big crash” into the pizzeria, witness Ashley Tang testified in Middlesex Superior Court. “I just gasped and said, ‘Oh, my God.’”

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Tang said that Casler’s SUV sped past her vehicle on Chestnut Street and she “felt my car shake” as the SUV barreled toward the restaurant.

“I did not see any brake lights,” Tang said.

Another witness, Alexis Lowe, described the aftermath of the crash. Casler’s SUV struck the rear of her car before he continued into Sweet Tomatoes. Lowe got out of her car and went into the restaurant, where she and another person went to the aid of a badly injured clerk.

“The counter had been smashed back and against her legs,” Lowe said.

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During opening statements, Casler’s lawyer, Thomas E. Giblin III, told jurors that his client has multiple sclerosis. Casler’s condition is “what substantially contributed to what happened,” he said.

Giblin said that while prosecutors will argue that Casler should not have been behind the wheel because of his condition, “no authority told Mr. Casler that he shouldn’t have been driving” before the crash.

“No evidence will show that Mr. Casler intended, or could have prevented, this accident,” Giblin said. “No one regrets the actions and this accident more than Mr. Casler.”

Even though “two fine people died” and several others were injured, it “does not mean that someone is criminally liable,” Giblin added.

Casler had been talking with Lampert on a hands-free Bluetooth device just before the crash, Giblin said. Casler may take the stand in his own defense, he added.

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Prosecutor Christopher M. Tarrant said the SUV “struck people, tables, chairs, went through a service counter” and struck two large pizza ovens before coming to a stop with Casler still inside.

Paramedics noted Casler was alert and responding to commands. Miele, who died from “multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” was lying on the ground, Tarrant said. Morin was pinned against an oven and died from trauma to his head and abdomen.

Casler sustained minor injuries when the airbag deployed and admitted to causing the crash while being treated by paramedics, Tarrant said.

Casler said he was driving about 20 or 25 miles per hour, Tarrant said, and also reported having multiple sclerosis. He said his brakes had malfunctioned, according to prosecutors.

But State Police later determined there were no mechanical defects with the SUV and that Casler was “in control of the vehicle as he maneuvered” it around cars before the crash, Tarrant said.

After listening to opening statements, jurors visited the crash scene before returning to the courthouse for afternoon testimony.

Mary Hoult, a Newton resident whose front bumper was struck by Casler’s SUV just before it crashed into the restaurant, told jurors she “felt my whole car move” when it was struck. She heard screaming and looked to the right to see Casler’s vehicle lodged inside the pizzeria.

“The back end of the car was all the way inside,” she said.

Casler listened attentively to the opening statements and testimony. Relatives of the victims, including Morin’s widow, Erica, were in attendance.

During Lampert’s testimony, Giblin asked if Casler had sounded calm or frantic when he abruptly ended their call.

“It kind of seemed to me like someone [else] was calling him,” Lampert said.

Under questioning from the prosecutor, Lampert said that Casler sounded “a little agitated” as if “something was up.” Lampert confirmed he had previously told the grand jury that Casler appeared to be “kind of like [in] a frenzy” when their phone call ended.

Testimony resumes Friday.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.