VTA facing two lawsuits

Will discuss in private meeting Friday.

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A screenshot from the July 11, 2018 incident. — Footage courtesy of the VTA

The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) is facing two lawsuits — one involving alleged discrimination against a passenger and the other involving a pedestrian who was struck — and will discuss the progress of those cases behind closed doors at a meeting Friday morning.

Boards are allowed to discuss litigation strategy in executive session under the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Kevin Brooks, a barber who commutes to the Island from New Bedford, is suing the VTA, bus driver James Taylor, and Transit Connection Inc., the driver’s parent company, in federal court for “horrific and unlawful” treatment in a July 2018 incident when Taylor did not pick up Brooks, saying, “Well, it’s because you’re black.”

In a July 2018 article, Brooks told The Times he flagged down the Route 13 bus on Beach Road near Oakdale Drive in Edgartown, but it drove past him. Brooks said bus drivers will usually tell him they are at capacity.

Having to catch the 5:20 pm ferry out of Oak Bluffs to New Bedford, Brooks immediately called an Uber to Oak Bluffs. Arriving shortly after the bus, Brooks confronted Taylor and asked why he passed him. Taylor replied, “Well, it’s because you’re black.”

After reviewing the video, the VTA fired Taylor, citing its “zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior.”

The Times received footage of the July 11 incident through a public records request.

The VTA filed a motion seeking summary judgement in September denying Brooks counts of emotional distress, violation of the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, violation of the public accommodation act, and violation of civil rights. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court in Boston.

The second complaint, in Norfolk County Superior Court, was filed by Michael Kelly, 44, of Quincy, who was struck by a VTA bus in Edgartown last year.

According to the complaint, on July 26, 2018, Kelly was crossing Church Street in Edgartown when a VTA bus, operated by Peter Magierski, “accelerated” onto Church Street.

“At that moment, [Magierski] struck [Kelly] with the front right end of the bus,” the complaint reads.

The complaint cites Magierski, Transit Connection Inc., the VTA driver’s parent company, and the VTA for negligence.

“As a proximate result of [Magierski’s] negligence, [Kelly] suffered and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries, pain and suffering of body and mind, expenses for medical care, and an inability to engage in his usual activities including work, for which he has suffered a loss of earning capacity,” the complaint reads.

Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee told The Times there were no criminal charges filed against Magierski. A state police accident reconstruction team was brought in to investigate and blamed the accident on environmental conditions

According to police reports, Kelly suffered fractures to his spine and possible internal injuries.

The suit also cites TCI for negligence in hiring, training, and supervising Magierski, claiming Magierski was pulled over by Edgartown Police five days earlier while operating a VTA bus. Police relieved Magierski from duty for “erratic driving, marked lane violations, and for veering ‘all over’ the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road,” the complaint reads.

Another report states Magierski told police he was getting four to five hours of sleep a night, working two jobs. Magerski voluntarily quit his second job after he was stopped by Edgartown Police, and before the crash.

McNamee brought in the State Police because his department had pulled Magierski over days earlier for alleged erratic operation, telling the officer he was only getting four to five hours of sleep. The chief said at the time he wanted an independent review, knowing the “optics looked bad.”

Kelly is seeking a trial by jury.

VTA administrator Angela Grant did not respond to repeated requests for comment.