MBTA fires bus operator charged with drunken driving

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / January 25, 2011

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SOMERVILLE — The MBTA bus driver who was arrested on charges of drunken driving Friday evening was handed a termination letter yesterday morning, at his court arraignment.

John McCarthy, 61, of Somerville was fired for allegedly violating MBTA rules on drinking alcohol or doing drugs during work and for excessive use of alcohol, according to the termination letter, signed by MBTA General Manager Richard A. Davey.

McCarthy was arrested Friday evening after the bus he was driving hit a car at a stop light at Medford Street and McGrath Highway. Police said that his speech was slurred and that he failed a field sobriety test. Police also say they found an open container of vodka in his possession.

McCarthy had a 0.29 percent blood-alcohol content on a breathalyzer test, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08, a police report said.

He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Somerville District Court yesterday to charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of an open container of alcohol while driving. The case was continued to Feb. 28.

McCarthy, who told the court he plans to hire a lawyer, would not comment yesterday. John Lee, head of the Boston Carmen’s Union, did not return a call for comment.

Davey said in an interview yesterday that the “conduct is completely unacceptable at the MBTA. “It is our principal responsibility to move people safely to where they need to get to, and obviously [McCarthy] was not in a condition to do that, so we took swift action,’’ the general manager said.

McCarthy has worked as a bus driver for 27 years, and “a review of his employee record turned up no significant issues,’’ said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

According to state records, McCarthy’s only driving infraction was a violation for not wearing a seat belt in 2005. His license was suspended Friday.

The accident occurred just after 5:30 p.m. Friday. Transit Police had been notified by Somerville authorities that an MBTA bus had rear-ended a car and that the driver’s eyes “were glassed over and he was acting strange,’’ according to court records. The bus had one passenger, who was not injured.

The car’s driver, who also was not injured, told police she approached McCarthy and saw him slouched over the steering wheel “staring off into space with his eyes looking glazed over,’’ according to the records.

The first Transit Police officers to enter the bus smelled alcohol from McCarthy’s breath and clothing, and he sat in the driver’s seat slouched over the steering wheel with his foot on the brake, the bus still in drive, according to police reports.

Davey said yesterday that the MBTA has programs in place to assist employees who exhibit any problems so that a case like this does not occur.

“I think we’ve got a good structure in place, and I think the vast majority of employees are doing the right thing,’’ Davey said. “In this instance, where you have an on-duty accident . . . related to drugs and alcohol, that is not conduct that we can accept, nor is it conduct that would allow a driver to try to rehabilitate himself and try to get his job back.’’

Davey added, “I hope he rehabilitates himself, but certainly not in the context of returning as an MBTA employee.’’

Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Milton Valencia can be reached at