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Massachusetts Medic Fights For Job

NEW BEDFORD — A city paramedic who was fired earlier this year for hitting and killing a pedestrian wants his job back now that all legal charges against him have been dropped.

Benjamin Fuertes was initially charged in the Feb. 4 motor vehicle accident, in which he struck Manuel F. Sousa, 58, as he crossed Brock Avenue, but a clerk magistrate failed to find probable cause for the charges, a finding that was upheld by a district court judge.

However, the city's decision to fire him, a decision that was made before the court proceedings played out, has not been revisited.

"I would like my job back," Fuertes said. "I was wrongfully terminated, and because the (court) case turned out the way it did, I was hoping they would just give it right back to me, but they're playing hardball."

Fuertes has appealed his termination with civil service, but a pretrial hearing on the matter that was to be held earlier this month was postponed at the city's request, according to Fuertes.

City Solicitor Irene Schall confirmed that her office is handling the civil service appeal but she would not comment in any additional detail.

Mayor Scott W. Lang said he will not consider any kind of settlement agreement with Fuertes.

"There is no way that I'm bringing back a guy who drives for the city of New Bedford who struck a pedestrian in the middle of the street in broad daylight with a windshield you couldn't see through," Lang said.

"I'm holding him responsible. I think he was negligent," the mayor said.

Police said Fuertes' windshield was salt-encrusted at the time of the accident. Fuertes' attorney, Anthony C. Savastano, said the facts proved that Fuertes was blinded by the early morning sun.

Mark Messier, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents the city's paramedics, said it concerned him that the city had taken action against Fuertes for an incident that happened when he was off duty, especially when that incident did not result in legal charges.

"The city ... (thinks) they're higher than the court system because he was guilty before being found innocent," Messier said.

Messier said an AFSCME attorney had been assigned to help Fuertes with his civil service appeal.

Fuertes also has an employment discrimination lawsuit against New Bedford, which he filed in 2008, pending in New Bedford Superior Court. The city filed a motion asking summary judgment, which was denied, and a jury trial is scheduled for October.

Fuertes is also considering filing a wrongful-termination suit against New Bedford; his decision on whether to file that suit will be based on what action the city takes in his civil service appeal, he said.

Fuertes said the February crash was a horrible accident and there is not a day that goes by that he doesn't think about it.

"I wanted to express my apologies to the family," he said. "If I could change things, if I was able to change things, I would."



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