James Ainsworth allegedly high on heroin when his SUV crashed, killing two in Easthampton

Last modified: Monday, September 01, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — A driver who police say was “nodding off” and high on heroin when his SUV crashed — killing two people on a motorcycle Thursday — was ordered held on $100,000 bail at his arraignment Friday.

James Walter Ainsworth, 45, pleaded not guilty before Northampton District Court Judge W. Michael Goggins to two counts of felony motor vehicle homicide under the influence of drugs, operating under the influence of drugs, operating to endanger, possession of a Class A drug (heroin) and operating with a suspended license.

The father and daughter killed in the crash were identified as Holyoke Community College instructor Edward D. McGrath, 62, of Holyoke, and law student Brittany D. McGrath, 29, of Brooklyn, New York, a 2004 graduate of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School.

In a police report that is part of the criminal complaint, Easthampton Police Officer Edward Murray wrote that a witness told police that after the crash Ainsworth left the SUV, “lit a cigarette and looked towards the damaged motorcycle.” Witnesses also said they overheard Ainsworth remark “the curb woke me up,” according to Murray’s report.

According to court records, a witness told police that at the time of the crash, Ainsworth appeared to have his eyes closed and his head was leaning against the driver’s side window like he was sleeping.

Murray wrote in the documents that “nodding off” is an effect of heroin use. He also noted that Ainsworth and his female passenger appeared “nonchalant” at the crash scene.

That passenger, Christina Rose Dunlap, 27, of Greenfield, was also arraigned Friday, pleading not guilty to charges of possession of a Class A drug (heroin) and being a fugitive from justice.

Goggins set her bail at $2,500 and ordered both to return for pretrial hearings Sept. 29. Ainsworth’s address was listed by Easthampton Police as the Greenfield Quality Inn where Dunlap lives, but Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne said his license lists his address as Springfield.

According to court documents, the McGraths were traveling north on Route 5 near the intersection of East Street when Ainsworth’s southbound SUV veered into the other lane. Other vehicles swerved to avoid it but it struck the motorcycle head on about three feet from the fog line. When police arrived minutes later, they found that both Brittany and Edward McGrath had been killed, according to the documents.

After allegedly striking the motorcycle, the SUV continued off the road and through bushes before stopping when it hit a pile of railroad ties.

Officer Murray wrote in his criminal complaint that Ainsworth stumbled, slurred his words and had “pinpoint pupils,” which Murray said were signs of heroin use.

Both Ainsworth and Dunlap were taken by ambulance to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield for treatment of minor injuries. Hospital staff administered Narcan, a drug to counteract the effects of heroin, to Ainsworth, who then was unable to stay awake, according to documents. He was found to be in possession of heroin and was arrested at the hospital.

In court Friday, a shackled Ainsworth was dressed all in black. His public defender, Alan Rubin, told Goggins that he and the district attorney’s office had agreed to bail of $100,000.

Rubin also told Goggins his client had not been allowed to make a phone call to check on his four children and had also not been given access to medication he needed to take. “I’m going to leave that to the jail,” Goggins said.

Christina Dunlap appeared in court also in shackles and in a large gray T-shirt and pajama pants with tigers on them. She was composed while Gagne described her police interview, when she allegedly admitted knowing Ainsworth had used heroin and that she had heroin in her purse.

But when he mentioned that the Department of Children and Families had as a result removed her four children from the hotel room where they had been living, she broke down in tears.

Saying Dunlap appeared to be “a full-blown, five-alarm heroin addict,” Goggins ignored a request from her court-appointed attorney, John Drake of Northampton, that she be released to take care of her children.

It was not clear whether Ainsworth and Dunlap had children together.

Drake described Dunlap as a mother who had fallen on hard times and who was well-supervised by several state agencies. “She wants to take whatever steps she needs to take to get her children back,” Drake said.

He said she moved from her home state of Tennessee to Holyoke two years ago to be with Ainsworth. The two had a house there until it was foreclosed on recently, and she has been living since then with her four children in a Quality Inn Hotel room in Greenfield, paid for by the Department of Transitional Assistance, which Drake said checks in on her regularly.

On Thursday, he said, she left her children with a friend who also lived in the hotel.

While Gagne said she told police she did not know the friend’s last name, Drake said she simply had a problem spelling the last name and knew the person well.

He said the fugitive from justice charge was due to an arrest warrant issued for Dunlap in Florida because she missed a court date after getting arrested for driving with a suspended license. He said she has a civil conviction from a shoplifting incident, but no criminal convictions.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.