WAREHAM, Mass. (AP) — A college student charged in connection with the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist in Middleborough last month pleaded not guilty Thursday and was freed after posting $10,000 bail.
Eric Megna, 18, and his mother refused to comment outside of Wareham District Court after his arraignment on a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The judge ordered him not to drive.
Michael Dutra, 58, was struck on the evening of Oct. 11 while bicycling to the grocery store.
Megna, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth from Middleborough, then fled to his family's vacation home in New Hampshire and told his mother and investigators that his SUV was damaged when he hit a deer, prosecutors said.
He even went so far as to send his mother a picture of a deer he lifted from the Internet, authorities said.
Investigators said there was no deer fur on his vehicle and they matched the damage on Megna's Jeep to evidence left at the scene of Dutra's death.
He was arrested Wednesday.
Megna's lawyer, David Sorrenti, said in court that his client was not present at the time Dutra was struck and the prosecution's timeline of events does not add up. He denied that his client fled, saying the trip to New Hampshire was preplanned.
Prosecutors said Peter Megna knew his son was a possible suspect, emailing Eric's mother: "I know you will be mad but the similarities of the accident and his vehicle are profound." It went on to say, "I've been trying to convince myself it wasn't him and he won't have to deal with this."
Detectives visiting his apartment Nov. 1 reportedly heard him saying, "Listen to me. Do what the attorney said and keep your mouth shut. The cops have to prove you were the one driving and they won't be able to. Cops are lazy. People get off all the time."
Emotions ran high in court after Sorrenti mistakenly called Megna by Dutra's name, prompting Dutra's adult daughter to exclaim, "Wrong. My dad won't." A brief recess was called to calm things down.
"He mistakenly said 'Michael Dutra would be present and called to trial,' said Michelle Dutra. "As we know, my dad won't be here."
Michelle and Shannon Dutra have publicly pleaded several times for the person who struck their father to come forward.
Shannon Dutra said she and her sister Michelle's world was "turned upside down" by the loss of their dad.
They said outside court Thursday that they are confident police have the right person.
"It's heartwrenching to hear how much thought went into this...trying to cover this up."