MassDOT has launched a review of its multi-million dollar contracts with a Rockland-based highway safety company after one of its employees was allegedly driving drunk when he killed a 13-year-old girl in a two-vehicle crash early Sunday in Pembroke while behind the wheel of a company pickup truck, authorities said.
Gregory P. Goodsell is currently being held without bail and facing a dangerousness hearing after pleading not guilty to manslaughter while under the influence and other charges in Plymouth District Court Monday. The 31-year-old Marshfield man’s right to drive was suspended by the Registry of Motor Vehicles as an immediate threat to the public.
Goodsell was driving a HiWay Safety Systems Inc. pickup truck when he allegedly drove through a red light about 7 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Church and Oak Streets and slammed into a Subaru passenger car being operated by a 50-year-old woman who was accompanied by two 13-year-old girls, police said.
One of the girls - identified by authorities in a police report as Claire Zisserson - was later pronounced dead. The other child suffered serious injuries and was reported in critical condition on Monday. The driver, identified in court records as Elizabeth Zisserson was also injured and was rushed to an area hospital with serious injuries, according to a Pembroke police report filed in court.
Elizabeth Zisserson was Claire’s mother and has been released from a hospital, said Jake McPherson, a friend who has organized a GoFundMe page to assist the family.
In a statement, MassDOT said it is now reviewing contracts with the HiWay Safety Systems, which provides safety message boards, traffic control equipment under a number of different contracts. According to the state Office of Comptoller, HiWay Safety Systems was paid $4 million by the state in 2019.
“We are saddened by this tragic incident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. MassDOT is extremely disappointed to learn of the circumstances surrounding this incident,'' the agency said in a statement. "We require that all of our contractors adhere to strict standards of safety and we are conducting a review into the status of Hi-Way Safety Systems Inc. with regard to active MassDOT contracts.”
As of Tuesday evening, the GoFundMe page had collected $63,871 from more than 1,300 donors toward a goal of $100,000. McPherson promised that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Zisserson’s family.
"Claire Zisserson was killed two days ago, December 29, 2019. A drunk driver took her life. The tragedy is a shock to everyone, especially Claire’s family,'' McPherson wrote. “Claire was a bright, kind 13 year old girl full of life with a bright future. Everyone loved her and she will be missed by so many. Don’t feel obligated to donate anything, but please understand Claire and her family did not deserve this pain.”
In an e-mail, McPherson said that the Zisserson family wanted to grieve in private and declined to be interviewed Tuesday.
According to authorities, Goodsell repeatedly told Pembroke police and ambulance crews - and later gave a taped statement to police - that he was “coming from the company Christmas party at the bosses house” where he had been drinking beer and Jameson’s Irish whiskey, the police report stated. He also allegedly told police that he had been using cocaine, and that he knew he should not have been driving, according to the report.
“I know I shouldn’t have been driving.. I can’t believe I did this. I drank way too much. I am sorry,'' he allegedly told police at the site of the crash Sunday morning, the police report said.
Police said they recovered a half-empty bottle of Jameson’s and one beer can within reach of the driver in the cab of the truck, according to the police report.
Goodsell declined medical attention, but was required by the ambulance crews to be examined at a hospital and he was taken to South Shore Medical Center in Weymouth where he underwent a series of medical tests and was released back to police custody.
Before he got into the ambulance, however, Goodsell again allegedly admitted to being drunk. “I made a mistake...Please help me..I’m just drunk, I’m not a bad guy..I just drank way too much, please believe me,” police quoted him as saying in the report.
Witnesses told police they had seen Goodsell in the company truck driving at a high rate of speed, crossing over the yellow lines on the highway and running through red lights. One witness described him as “travelling at the speed of lightning” when he passed her in a no-passing zone travelling at an estimated 90 miles an hour, police wrote in the report.
According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Goodsell has amassed a fivepage driving history since he first obtained a license in 2004covering 15 driving infractions including two crashes, three speeding tickets, and twice failing to yield or stop at traffic signals.
Hi-Way Safety Systems referred questions to Boston-based attorney, Camille F. Sarrouf,who was not immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz’s office said that in addition to investigating the fatal crash that claimed Zisserson’s life, his office is now looking into the death of a 41-year-old Rockland man who was found unresponsive at the Comfort Inn in Rockland around 8 a.m. Sunday.
Cruz’s office said the state medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy and has not yet determined a cause of death. He was identified as 41-year-old Joseph Amaral of Rockland. He was rushed to South Shore Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead.
According to the manager at the Comfort Inn, Brian McNally, the motel does not have meeting rooms or conference rooms that could have hosted a holiday party. He declined to discuss the circumstances about the incident on Sunday. Rockland police said Amaral was a guest at the hotel.