Driver of dump truck was signaled frantically while backing into pedestrian, reports show
The driver of the dump truck that fatally struck Jie Zhao, 27, of Cambridge, on Oct. 5 was apparently unaware he had run over Zhao while backing up and drove forward, hitting her again, a police report says. Witnesses to the Cambridgeport accident also told police that Zhao had lost her footing and fallen while walking behind the truck to cross the street.
Another dump truck driver behind the one driven by Daniel Desroche, 53, of Methuen, was checking to see that the intersection was clear and radioed frantically ahead “Stop! Stop! Stop!’” when he saw Zhao trying to cross behind Desroche’s truck. Witnesses said drivers at the intersection also beeped their horns and shouted in a futile effort to get Desroche’s attention, documents in the police report said.
Desroche appeared at Cambridge District Court on Wednesday for arraignment on the criminal misdemeanor charge of negligent operation of a motor vehicle. The case was continued until Nov. 20 and Desroche was released on his own recognizance, but ordered not to drive and to inform the Probation Department if he was leaving Massachusetts.
His attorney, Ronald J. Ranta, said in a written statement that the evidence will show that Desroche didn’t act criminally.
“Quite simply, this is a tragedy. Our prayers go out to Ms. Zhao’s family,” Ranta said.
Reports road was clear
He said the truck’s backup beeper system was working and that the dump truck driver behind him, who was working the same job – the repaving of Pearl Street – “informed him that the road was clear” before he backed up.
The second driver, Patrick Annese, of Hudson, New Hampshire, agreed that he “was guiding Desroche and was telling him when the intersection was clear to back up the truck,” but also recounted his desperate efforts to stop Desroche when he saw Zhao enter the street, a witness account in the police report said.
A breathalyzer test given to Desroche at the scene of the accident registered zero, the report said. It said a pair of earbuds was found near Zhao’s body – suggesting the possibility she was listening through them and could not hear a truck backing up – but did not indicate that the earbuds belonged to her. The 2001 dump truck that Desroche drove was filled with asphalt destined for the Pearl Street repaving job. The repaving of the entire street from Massachusetts Avenue to Granite Street, the culmination of a lengthy project to replace pipes and remake the street and sidewalks, was a one-day job that extended into the night.
The accident occurred at Putnam Avenue and Magazine Street at around 6:45 p.m. Desroche was traveling on Putnam toward Pearl Street and overshot Magazine, where he intended to turn right. He stopped the truck in the crosswalk on Putnam Avenue at the Cambridgeport Baptist Church and began backing up through the intersection, the report says.
Zhao had begun crossing Putnam Street behind the truck. “The victim attempted to get out of the roadway, but fell to the ground,” the police report said. Some witness statement language suggested Zhao “froze” when the truck started backing up and lost her footing. Desroche’s truck “continued to move in reverse, making contact with the victim. Mr. Desroche comes to a stop in the middle of the intersection and places the motor vehicle into drive and moves forward, again making contact with the victim and comes to a final stop” after the crosswalk at the church, the report said.
Zhao died instantly, the report said.
The people involved
She had emigrated to the United States from China at the age of 14 and lived with her mother in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Zhao came to Cambridge to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she graduated in 2014. She had worked for almost three years at HubSpot, the Cambridge-based company that helps companies attract customers through social media, websites and other electronic means.
In July, Zhao bought a condominium at 222 Chestnut St., slightly more than a block from the scene of the accident. She attracted a large group of friends, who wrote a remembrance of her published Oct. 18 in The Tech, a student newspaper. She had celebrated her 27th birthday Sept. 14, four weeks before she died.
Desroche has been driving trucks his entire work life and owns his own trucking company, Desroche & Sons Enterprises, his lawyer Ranta said. He had also celebrated a birthday shortly before the accident: his 53rd, on Sept. 29, according to information in the police report.