Driver who hit man at Northampton bus stop gets 2 years

Managing Editor
Published: 3/1/2021 5:17:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A 26-year-old Northampton man was sentenced to two years in jail on Monday for driving a stolen car into a downtown bus stop and severely injuring a man who had been sleeping there before taking off and leading police on a high-speed chase last June.

In a virtual hearing, Christopher Durham pleaded guilty in Northampton District Court to leaving the scene of personal injury, leaving the scene of property damage, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for police, and driving with a suspended license. The prosecution and the defense agreed to the jail sentence, and Durham participated from the county jail in Ludlow where he has been held since his arraignment in October. The hearing was presided over by Judge Laurie MacLeod.

“The Commonwealth would like to thank the victim in this case for having the courage on scene while in significant pain to provide a statement to the police which helped secure Durham’s apprehension and also a conviction in this case,” Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Andrew Covington said in a statement.

“We believe it’s a fair result given the facts and circumstances in this case,” he said by phone after the hearing.

Durham was represented by Northampton attorney Daniel Carey, who could not be reached for comment Monday. Durham will get credit for time served since his incarceration in October.

Northampton Police Officer Heather Longley wrote in a police report filed in court documents that she had been on patrol June 20 at around 1 a.m. when she observed a blue Toyota Camry do a “doughnut” in the middle of the intersection at Main and King streets. Longley wrote that the driver and front-seat passenger were cheering and had their fists out of the window.

Longley wrote that the driver began accelerating west down Main Street, lost control of the car, overcorrected, went onto the sidewalk, and crashed into the PVTA bus stop at 99 Main St., damaging it. The vehicle struck 61-year-old Paul Chandler, of Northampton, who was at the bus stop, severely injuring him, according to court documents.

Police said the car kept going and began heading down Pleasant Street at approximately 65 mph while being pursued by police. The car turned onto I-91 south and once it passed the Oxbow, it sped out of sight at approximately 100 mph and police stopped their pursuit after obtaining the car’s license plate.

At the crash scene, police and members of Northampton Fire Rescue aided Chandler and took him to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Durham was arrested hours later by State Police in Hampden County. Police later learned the car in question was reported stolen out of West Boylston and had crashed in West Springfield after two more police chases.

Northampton Police Detective Honora Sullivan-Chin wrote in a police report that she was shown photos taken by a West Boylston police officer from surveillance footage at a Cumberland Farms that allegedly shows Durham entering the stolen car, which had been left running with the keys in the ignition.

Durham also faces charges in Worcester and Hampden counties in connection with the incident, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

Suit for damages

In a related case, Easthampton attorney Susan Sachs filed a lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court in December on Chandler’s behalf seeking damages against Michajlo O. Gorgievski, of Worcester, the owner of the vehicle police say Chandler stole and injured Chandler with in Northampton.

The lawsuit alleges Gorgievski violated state law when he left his Toyota Camry running, unattended and unlocked with the keys in the ignition outside the Cumberland Farms in West Boylston. An attempt to reach Gorgievski was unsuccessful Monday.

“The statute was passed for public safety reasons,” Sachs said.

Using surveillance footage, West Boylston Police identified Durham as the suspect who stole the vehicle from the Cumberland Farms, according to a police report. The lawsuit alleges Durham then drove the car to Northampton after midnight on June 20, lost control of the vehicle and struck Chandler at the bus stop while he was sleeping. The lawsuit states Chandler suffered “catastrophic injuries,” which required multiples surgeries and a 48-day hospital stay.

“He got out of the hospital,” Sachs said. “He’s now able to take a few steps.”

Last year’s incident in Northampton is not the first time Durham has been involved with stolen vehicles. In July 2018, he was arrested for stealing a motorcycle just hours after he had been arraigned in Westborough District Court on a charge of stealing a sport utility vehicle, according to a report by MetroWest Daily News.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


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