Injured teen's mother erupts as driver is charged in hit-and-run

By Douglas Belkin, Globe Staff, and Nicole Fuller, Globe Correspondent, 8/5/2003

he mother of a teenager left comatose by a hit-and-run driver was carried out of a packed courtroom in Dorchester yesterday after she unleashed a tirade against the man accused of striking her son with a sport utility vehicle, dragging him half a block, and then speeding away.



Moments after Joao DePina was charged in Dorchester District Court with leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury, Anissa Booker, the mother of the 15-year-old victim, rose, and in a voice shaking with rage, shouted, ''What about my son?''

DePina, 26, whose driver's license has been suspended eight times in eight years, stood silently before the judge, his left arm in a sling, as Booker was carried out past DePina's relatives. After the outburst, Dorchester District Court Judge Sydney Hanlon ordered DePina moved to a glass-enclosed area, where he appeared to wipe tears from his eyes.

He pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge. Prosecutors sought $25,000 cash bail, but Hanlon set it at $2,500, which DePina posted after the hearing.

Last Thursday, Paris G. Booker was hit as he rode his bicycle the wrong way on one-way Homes Avenue near the corner of Topliff Street, according to police. Prosecutors said that DePina was driving 50 miles per hour on the narrow street and that the boy was dragged 30 feet.

On Saturday, two days after the collision, police said that two members of Booker's family went to DePina's East Cottage Street home after they learned that police had issued a citation against him in the accident. Nicholas Felici, DePina's lawyer, asked Hanlon to issue a restraining order to keep the Booker family away from his client. Felici said DePina did not file an application for a restraining order.Just after Felici mentioned DePina's arm injury, Anissa Booker erupted, deriding the mention of his arm and shouting, ''My son will never walk again!'' Paris Booker, a 6-foot-2-inch standout basketball player who was slated to attend Charlestown High School in September, was pedaling home from a pick-up basketball game when he was hit.

Witnesses said Booker was heading the wrong way on the one-way street when he entered Topliff Street. Booker's uncle said on Sunday that his nephew was hit so hard that his skull separated from his spinal cord. Family members have said that doctors have told them that if Booker survives, he will be paralyzed from the neck down.

DePina has five moving violations on his record, two for speeding and three for failure to stop at traffic signals. His license was revoked after he repeatedly failed to pay his fines, according to Registry of Motor Vehicle records. DePina's license was valid at the time of collision, Registry officials said.

If convicted of leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, DePina could be jailed for six months to two years, said David Procopio, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office.

''We certainly feel for the family and sympathize with the grief they're feeling,'' Procopio said. ''However, we are guided by the facts and the law. . . . Based on the evidence we have at this point, [the misdemeanor charge] is the only charge that is currently warranted.''

If Booker dies, Procopio said, the district attorney would immediately seek to upgrade the charge to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident that caused death, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in state prison.

Before the hearing, DePina's sister spoke tearfully of the accident. ''It's very sad for the guy's family,'' said Maria DePina. ''It's very sad for us.''

A man who lives next to the intersection has said he has complained about speeding on Topliff Street for years.

But the intersecting one-way streets make the intersection difficult to regulate, said James Mansfield, director of community affairs for the city's Transportation Department.

City workers inspected the intersection yesterday, he said, and are considering adding speed limit signs or speed bumps.

Yesterday, Booker's parents said their son remained in critical condition, was running a fever of 102 degrees, and was still unresponsive. Anissa Booker and Michael Bunch, Paris's father, have taken turns staying at his bedside since the collision.

Bunch said yesterday that he was disappointed that DePina had been released on such low bail.

''He should be in jail because he left the scene of a crime,'' he said. ''His bail should have been even higher.''

''We're just hoping that justice finds the right place and does the right thing,'' Booker said yesterday evening.

Douglas Belkin can be reached at dbelkin@globe.com. Nicole Fuller can be reached at fuller@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 8/5/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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