Nearly 900 drivers accused of vehicular homicide, drinking while driving, and other serious offenses had been allowed to keep their licenses because the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles ignored thousands of alerts from other states, officials said Friday.
The latest disclosure marks a significant jump from the 546 drivers whose licenses officials had previously suspended as part of their review of the Registry. Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, said officials suspended 330 more licenses this week, bringing the total to 876.
More suspensions may still be coming as officials dig through archived notifications going back to 2011, she said.
For the first time Friday, the Registry also revealed the breadth of charges those drivers faced in other states, a stunning list of more than 70 offenses that include leaving the scene of a fatal accident, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and fatal hit-and-run.
State officials have not released the drivers’ names or where the violations occurred.
The new details deepen the fallout within the department, where officials have been trying to identify drivers who should have lost their licenses but slipped through the cracks after Registry workers filed away, apparently unread, tens of thousands of paper notifications of infractions that other states had sent Massachusetts since at least March 2018.
The Baker administration has also had to reckon with its admission that the Registry should have terminated the commercial license of a 23-year-old West Springfield truck driver before he allegedly plowed into a group of motorcycle riders, killing seven, last month in Randolph, N.H.
The RMV registrar, Erin Deveney, resigned last week in the wake of the case against Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, who now faces negligent homicide charges in connection to the New Hampshire crash. Massachusetts officials said they failed to act on a notification from Connecticut officials after Zhukovskyy was arrested there on suspicion of operating under the influence six weeks before the New Hampshire crash.
A memorial motorcycle ride for the seven people killed is expected to draw thousands Saturday to New Hampshire.
Governor Charlie Baker, who made remaking the Registry into an efficient hub of bureaucracy a key campaign plank, acknowledged the agency has struggled to balance a focus on customer service and its public safety responsibilities.
“It’s clear there’s an immediate need to re-prioritize public safety across the organization,” Baker said at a Friday news conference. “The lapses that were discovered are unacceptable and the consequences of these lapses have had tragic outcomes.”
It was in reviewing Zhukovskyy’s case that officials uncovered the more sweeping, systemic problems. Officials have disclosed that at least since early last year, no one at the Registry had been tracking paper notifications sent by other states when a Massachusetts motorist is cited or charged there.
Instead, workers “simply sorted them into mail bins” and put them into a records room inside the Registry’s Quincy headquarters.
State officials said they initially found 53 bins stashed there. But Pollack said Friday they found five more, and 72 additional ones were pulled from the Registry’s archives in Concord, dating back to 2011. Officials are still processing those notices, but so far, the Registry has suspended the licenses of 746 people they’ve identified from the search in Quincy and another 130 from the search in Concord.
The number of suspensions so far is “substantial” and is likely to grow, Pollack said, but she cautioned that it’s only a share of the roughly 230,000 suspensions the Registry processes in a given year.
“We have tracked down every paper copy of an out-of-state notice that has gone unprocessed in the last five years that we could find,” Pollack said, adding that officials also looked in a private storage facility the Registry uses, as well as each of its 30 service centers. “We really have looked everywhere.”
Even with the disclosures, several questions remain, including why the Registry stopped processing the paper notifications in March 2018. Officials have also said they’re reviewing whether the Registry properly sent its own notifications after licensed drivers from other states broke driving laws here.
As part of its review, state officials said Friday they’ve hired the accounting firm Grant Thornton to conduct an “end-to-end” forensic audit, including determining why the Registry failed to revoke Zhukovskyy’s license before the crash. The firm is expected to issue a 30-day interim report and a final report in 60 days.
Officials are also creating a deputy registrar position focused on public safety. And Baker said he is drafting legislation designed to tighten the requirements for getting a commercial driver’s license, though details were not released.
In an unprecedented move, state officials are planning to cross-reference all 5.2 million of its license holders at one time with a federal database of motor vehicle infractions. The process is expected to start July 15.
The crisis at the Registry has put the Baker administration on the defensive, including Pollack, who earlier this week brushed aside questions of whether she planned to step aside. Baker on Friday reaffirmed his support for his longtime secretary, saying he has “full confidence that she’ll fix” the issues within the Registry.
The agency’s problems have also opened the Baker administration to potential state and federal scrutiny. State officials said they plan to meet next week with members of the state Inspector General’s Internal Special Audit Unit, which specifically monitors the state Department of Transportation, and the US Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s office about the commercial driver’s licensing process.
Baker has said the meeting will “allow them to conduct their own reviews of the Registry’s planned changes.”
A spokesman for the federal Inspector General’s office said Friday that there was no audit pending in this matter, and that the office doesn’t confirm or deny the existence of investigations.