Lawsuit points fingers at city depts. including DPW, Police, city leadership

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IS ANYONE RESPONSIBLE? At right, clockwise from top left, City Manager Katie Ambrose, DPW Chief Peter Nourse and Police Chief Gary Boudreau; left inset Michael Collins Sr. (Courtesy photos)

ROCHESTER - A lawsuit filed last week in the death of a Rochester motorcyclist should be a wake-up call for City of Rochester officials who should be considering a more robust action plan when downtown traffic lights malfunction like they did on Aug. 19.
But instead of being transparent city officials are using the excuse of an ongoing investigation now into its seventh month to clam up, not only with the media, but also with lawyers representing the estate of the Rochester man who tragically died in the crash, according to court filings.
"Rochester has deliberately delayed a charging decision ... to avoid compliance with public right to know requests pursuant to R.S.A. § 91-A:4," according to a complaint filed by Attorney Christopher J. Gavrielidis of Altman Nussbaum Shunnarah Trial Attorneys.
The estate of Michael D. Collins Sr. - the Rochester motorcyclist struck by another vehicle in downtown Rochester on Aug. 19 - has filed a civil lawsuit against the car's driver, the City of Rochester and Electric Light Company Inc. of Cape Neddick, Maine.
The lawsuit. brought by Collins' son, Michael Collins Jr., seeks "recovery and accountability for the purported wrongful death," according to a statement sent to The Rochester Voice on March 5.
The three defendants include Kimberlee Lynn Raymond, 22, of Rochester, the driver of the car that struck Collins; Electric Light Company Inc, the contracted light repair vendor and the City of Rochester.
The Rochester Voice has written numerous articles about the accident, which, according to witnesses and police reports, occurred while the downtown stoplights at the corner of South Main and Portland streets were blinking instead of solid as they are intended to be.
The complaint alleges that "while Collins approached a four-way intersection from South Main Street, he met a malfunctioning traffic light that bore a flashing yellow signal while the motorist, Raymond, approached the intersection from Portland Street which bore a red flashing signal. Raymond failed to yield the right of way to Collins, striking his motorcycle which caused him to fall to the ground and become pinned beneath Raymond's vehicle."
The filing alleges that Raymond operated her vehicle "carelessly and negligently with Collins tragically dying as a result of the collision."
The lawsuit further claims that the traffic light in question was operating in "safety mode" where a light that normally produces solid red, yellow and green traffic signals has a system failure and instead yields blinking colors. According to the March 5 filing, Police Officers reported the lights were malfunctioning at 10 a.m. the day of the crash, more than nine hours before the accident occurred.
"The City of Rochester and the Electric Light Company failed to respond adequately to a malfunctioning traffic light at an intersection already known to be dangerous, and it ended up costing Mr. Collins his life," according to the complaint. "Mr. Collins operated his motorcycle prudently, but Ms. Raymond was entirely reckless in operating her own vehicle. The family of Mr. Collins wants and needs answers on how this could have happened. There is a shared accountability by multiple parties here, and we intend to ensure justice is delivered to bring Mr. Collins' family and friends some semblance of closure."
An invoice from Electric Light Co. indicates that work was done on a malfunctioning stoplight at the corner of South Main and Portland streets on Aug. 19, the same day that Collins was killed at the intersection, but according to the complaint, it wasn't completed till several hours after the fatal crash.
The complaint also asserts that police dispatch, the city's DPW and Electric Light Co. Inc were all sluggish in their response to the inherent dangers presented by the lights flashing in "safety mode."
"On August 19, 2023, dispatch unreasonably delayed communication with the DPW concerning the malfunctioning traffic signals at the subject intersection ... and/or the DPW unreasonably delayed communication with Rochester's contractor, Electric (Light Co. Inc.) concerning the malfunction of the traffic lights at the subject intersection."
The filing also accuses Electric Light Co. of a tardy response.
"Once notified of the issue, Electric (Light Co Inc) unreasonably delayed its efforts to inspect and/or repair the traffic signals at the subject intersection."
Collins, 54, of Rochester, died when his 2010 Harley Davidson FLHTC collided with a 2016 Toyota Corolla being driven by Raymond, of Rochester, around 7:40 p.m,
The City of Rochester including Rochester Police continue to maintain they can have no comment on the case since a criminal investigation into the crash remains open. Police have also refused to comment on why the investigation has dragged on more than six months. Today they told The Voice charges are still possible.
The Rochester Voice has also asked for documents regarding the contract between the City of Rochester and Electric Light Co. Inc. but City Attorney Terence O'Rourke said there is none, because the city's Request for Proposal serves as the de facto contract.
O'Rourke also has confirmed that there were no emails regarding the malfunctioning light between DPW staff, City Manager Katie Ambrose and any other City of Rochester personnel.
The lack of communication between city officials including from the DPW, Police and others is represented in the filing as a large contributor to the tragedy,
According to the complaint The City of Rochester breached its duty by:
failing to assign police detail at the subject intersection, which was known by the City of Rochester to be dangerous
failing to place temporary signs, signals, road markers, or any other form of guidance for motorists at the subject intersection while the traffic signals were malfunctioning
failing generally to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of motorists at the subject intersection
Police dispatch notes indicate that the Aug. 19 malfunction was due to an electrical issue.
Gavrielidis said they will seek a jury trial which could take up to two years to come to fruition, he estimated.
The city is being represented by Attorney Matthew Burrows of the law firm Gallagher, Callaghan and Cartrell of Concord.

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