Metro

Trolley driver arraigned for using cellphone before crash

Trolley driver Leroy Mattison was arraigned in Dorchester Municipal Court on Wednesday.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Trolley driver Leroy Mattison was arraigned in Dorchester Municipal Court on Wednesday.

A fired MBTA driver was arraigned Wednesday on charges alleging he was surfing the Internet on his cellphone when the Mattapan trolley he was operating crashed into another train stopped on the tracks in Dorchester, injuring 17 people.

Leroy H. Mattison, 42, of Malden, was released on personal recognizance in Dorchester Municipal Court for gross negligence and other charges stemming from the Dec. 29 crash. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Mattison, dressed in jeans and a white-collared shirt, had no comment after the brief hearing.

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He is due back in court March 29.

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Away from work, Mattison had amassed an eight-page driving history, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. His citations include a right of way violation and illegal operation in 2001; failure to stop, failure to yield to a pedestrian, and no registration or inspection sticker in 2003; inappropriate equipment in 2005; unregistered and inappropriate equipment and no inspection sticker in 2006; no inspection sticker in 2009; and a surchargeable accident in 2015.

His license has also been suspended repeatedly for defaulting on payments, records show.

In an MBTA Transit Police affidavit filed in the case, investigators said Mattison told authorities he reached into his backpack to “take a quick peek” at his phone shortly before the crash and attempted to delete a posting he had left the night before on Reddit.com.

He also admitted to investigators that his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson firearm was in his backpack on the trolley, the affidavit said. Authorities said the gun was loaded.

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Mattison was released on personal recognizance at his arraignment Wednesday in Malden District Court on one count of improper storage of a large capacity firearm near a minor.

He is due back in court for that case on March 12.

Mattison, hired by the T in 2001, was fired after the crash.

Train operators are barred from possessing personal cellphones while driving trolleys, and the affidavit said the collision occurred “as a result of operator Leroy Mattison’s attention being distracted by him looking at his personal cellphone, while operating’’ an MBTA trolley.

In 2009, a Green Line crash that injured 49 people and destroyed three trains, caused by a trolley driver who was texting his girlfriend, prompted T officials to implement a zero-tolerance policy on cellphone use.

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The MBTA made the rules stricter in 2014, requiring a 30-day suspension for any bus or train operator with a cellphone on the job. That rule change came after a bus crash left an MBTA bus dangling over the Massachusetts Turnpike in Newton. The driver allegedly had a cellphone in her hand. Seven people were injured.

“The MBTA is extremely disappointed with the alleged conduct of this former trolley operator, who jeopardized the safety of both customers and employees,” the T said in a statement earlier this month about the Mattapan incident. “Due to these allegations, this individual has been let go and will no longer operate any MBTA vehicles.”

Suffolk County prosecutors did not detail the allegations during the arraignment Thursday.

But according to court records and officials, two trolley cars headed inbound collided on a stretch of tracks flanked by the Cedar Grove Cemetery and a river walkway, when Mattison’s train rear-ended the other.

Passengers described a jolt that tossed riders forward. Officials said the riders who were hurt suffered mostly minor injuries.

The driver of the trolley that Mattison struck had stopped to ask the operators of two trains stalled on the opposite tracks — one was trying to push the other to Mattapan Station after it became disabled — if they needed help.

The operator of the train that had been trying to push the disabled trolley heard a distraught Mattison say after the crash, “I didn’t see him, I didn’t know he was there” and “I’m screwed,” the affidavit said.

Mattison also told a T supervisor that “I tried to help,” the filing said. “I didn’t know, I didn’t hear, they can do whatever they want to me.” He also told the supervisor, “I heard a baby cry.”

He told investigators that after the crash, he gave his backpack to a woman at the scene who appeared “compassionate” and told her to bring it to the inspector’s office at Mattapan Station.

Mattison told detectives he initially thanked T bus inspector Shirley Slayman for receiving the bag from the woman after the crash, saying to Slayman, “Good looking out, I had my gun in the bag, I could have been [expletive],” the affidavit said.

Slayman chided him for putting her in a bad position, the filing said.

He told authorities he normally leaves his gun in his car, but he couldn’t on the day of the crash because his personal vehicle wasn’t working, according to the filing.

Andrea Estes and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com.