A Beverly police officer suffered a seizure just before his cruiser rammed into a car in January, killing a 61-year-old woman sitting in the parked vehicle, the officer's lawyer said yesterday.
Stuart Merry pleaded not guilty yesterday in Peabody District Court to motor vehicle homicide and other charges stemming from the Jan. 20 crash on Cabot Street that killed Bonney Burns as she sat outside her home.
Merry was released on personal recognizance and ordered not to drive by Judge Allen Swan, according to the office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett.
Neil Rossman, Merry's Boston-based lawyer, said by phone that the 40-year-old officer had a seizure and was unconscious as his marked Ford Crown Victoria cruiser sped across Cabot Street and into Burns's car.
"I believe he had a medical emergency that rendered him unconscious prior to the impact," Rossman said. "He was not in control of the car. He had some type of seizure."
Merry was charged after a months-long investigation by State Police and Essex County prosecutors. A clerk magistrate held a hearing last month and found probable cause to issue the charges.
Rossman said that a State Police crash reconstruction worker testified during the hearing about what was recorded in the cruiser's onboard computer that morning.
The record shows, Rossman said, that Merry lightly applied the brakes on the cruiser 11 seconds before impact. In the 7 1/2 seconds before impact, the cruiser's accelerator was floored, and the vehicle reached a speed of about 52 miles per hour before it smashed into the parked car, Rossman said.
Merry is facing charges of motor vehicle homicide, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, and marked lanes violations.
Rossman said Merry turned 40 on Jan. 19 and that his license was expired for nine hours at the time of the crash. He said Merry forgot to renew his license as his birthday neared.
Burns was described by friends and relatives as a semiretired registered dietitian who loved to square dance.
Rossman said Merry had no history of seizures before the crash, but he has had a seizure since the accident. He declined to be more specific, citing Merry's right to privacy.
Merry was released on personal recognizance and is on medical leave from the department, Rossman said.
"He wants nothing more than to get this thing off his back and get physically cleared to come back to work and go back out on the street," Rossman said. "He loves his job, and he's a good man."
Steve O'Connell, the spokesman for Blodgett's office, said prosecutors would not comment because the case is pending.
John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.