Homicide victim’s family sues youth programs for wrongful death

Christopher Mills, left, is charged with killing taxi driver Donald DePina, right. (WPRI-TV)

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The family of a taxi driver and Vietnam veteran allegedly killed by two teens two years ago filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services and the Old Colony YMCA in Fall River, claiming the organizations’ negligence led to the killing.

Donald DePina, 66, was hailed as a “tireless advocate” for veterans. (Photo from family)

Donald DePina, 66, was originally found unresponsive with gunshot wounds in a New Bedford city park in November 2015, and was later pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Two teenagers were later arrested, Alexander Mills, then 18, and a then-16-year-old juvenile male, with prosecutors claiming they’d gotten into DePina’s cab and told him to drive to the park, where Mills allegedly shot him twice. The pair allegedly stole his credit cards and went on a spending spree.

In court documents, it was revealed Mills had complained of hallucinations and hearing voices, and a psychologist recommended him for further evaluation.

The lawsuit claims Mills had been placed by the Department of Youth Services (DYS) in a “staff secure” program at the Old Colony YMCA in Fall River, and poor security measures in the program allowed Mills to escape two weeks before DePina was killed. The lawsuit cites a contract between the DYS and YMCA, saying the YMCA was supposed to have cameras and alarms on doors to “prevent clients from leaving the program without proper supervision.”

The lawsuit also claims “DYS has a recurring and systemic problem with offenders escaping from its facilities,” noting 445 escapes between January 2011 and December 2015, with 93 percent of them involving “staff secure” facilities like the YMCA. Furthermore, both DYS and the YMCA had been familiar with Mills’s criminal record, including — according to the lawsuit — convictions for assault and battery, armed assault, larceny and posession of a class D substance with intent to distribute, among other crimes.

DePina had been hailed for helping military veterans in his spare time, with former New Bedford Mayor Frederick Kalisz, Jr. saying, “He understood and knew the pains war brought back with them.”

Eyewitness News reached out to the YMCA and left a message for a comment but did not receive a response.