Jury selected for Greenfield officer’s vehicular homicide trial

  • Greenfield Police Sgt. James Rode in Greenfield District Court for his pretrial hearing in February. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2020 9:59:57 PM

GREENFIELD — The trial of a Greenfield Police officer charged with negligent vehicular homicide began Tuesday.

Greenfield Police Sgt. James Rode, 50, of Erving, was arraigned in July 2018 on charges related to an 2017 fatal crash on High Street.

Rode has pleaded not guilty, and is represented by defense attorney Kevin Reddington. If convicted, he faces up to 2½ years in prison and a 15-year loss of his driver’s license.

A jury was impaneled in the Greenfield District Court trial on Tuesday, followed by opening statements from the defense and the prosecution, led by Steven E. Gagne, assistant district attorney for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. Jurors then viewed the area where the crash took place.

The trial resumes with witness testimony Thursday morning before Judge Lynn Connly.

Around 8:10 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, Rode was traveling at approximately 83 mph in a 30 mph zone in his police cruiser with emergency lights activated, according to a “statement of facts” filed in a criminal complaint by Massachusetts State Police Trooper Joseph F. Ballou.

Rode struck the rear passenger side of a vehicle attempting to cross High Street on Sanderson Street, fatally injuring James Arcellana, 29, of Hinsdale, N.H.

According to Ballou’s statement, Rode was responding to an urgent report of an erratic operator heading toward Greenfield on Routes 5 and 10. Rode was driving a “low profile” cruiser with department lettering, but no overhead lights bar, and the conditions were “clear and cool, and the roads were dry.”

Massachusetts State Police investigated the crash, and found that neither Rode nor Arcellana were wearing seatbelts. Neither of them were using their cellphones.

The lone passenger in Arcellana’s vehicle suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The passenger later told police they remembered seeing an ambulance and another police cruiser pass by while they were at the stop sign and about to cross High Street.

Rode told investigators he did not know how fast he was traveling, but he was very familiar with High Street, traveling it many times a day.

Arcellana was transported to Baystate Franklin Medical Center, succumbing to his injuries three days later. The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Arcellana’s death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head suffered in the crash.

Rode was traveling 83 mph between five seconds and one second prior to impact, according to the Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section. By applying his brakes, Rode slowed to about 63 mph just before impact.

According to a visibility study at the scene by Massachusetts State Police, Arcellana would not have been able to see Rode’s vehicle, which was about 579 feet from the intersection, when he began to cross the road.

Ballou’s report concludes that there were no defections in either vehicle, and that Rode “failed to exercise proper caution or show due regard for the safety of other persons and property. Moreover, two patrol officers on duty were in closer proximity to the reported erratic operator than he was, thereby lessening the urgency of his response.”


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