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N.H. governor: ‘Horrific crash’ happened because Mass. RMV dropped the ball

The office of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, shown at a news conference shortly after the June 21 crash where seven motorcyclists were killed, is going on the attack against the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The office of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, shown at a news conference shortly after the June 21 crash where seven motorcyclists were killed, is going on the attack against the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.Paul Hayes for The Boston Globe/File

The office of New Hampshire’s governor, Chris Sununu, lashed out Friday at current and former officials at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, laying blame for a horrifying fatal crash in his state on their bureaucratic failures.

“Make no mistake: The deficiencies within the Massachusetts RMV under the leadership of Ms. Deveney resulted in the horrific crash in Randolph,” Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt told the Globe.

Sununu’s office was displeased with statements made Tuesday by Erin Deveney, the RMV’s former registrar, in which she said New Hampshire — like Massachusetts — had also failed to transmit notifications about out-of-state drivers who should have their license suspended.

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On Friday, Sununu’s office fired back: “For Ms. Deveney to try and conflate the severity of their problem with New Hampshire is shameful and reaffirms why she no longer has a job,” Vihstadt said in a statement.

Vihstadt would not directly address whether New Hampshire had failed to send licensing alerts to Massachusetts when a driver committed a serious infraction, such as driving while intoxicated or reckless driving. He said that Sununu ordered a review of his state’s operations in the aftermath of the Randolph crash and that the Division of Motor Vehicles had already taken steps to improve its communications procedures. However, Vihstadt declined to say how, and he sidestepped additional questions.

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, the driver accused in the crash, has a lengthy history of infractions. He was arrested in Connecticut in May for intoxicated driving.

His refusal to take a chemical sobriety test should have resulted in an immediate suspension of his commercial driving license, but the Massachusetts Registry took no action.

Five weeks later, he allegedly crashed into a group of motorcyclists and killed seven people on a New Hampshire highway.

Deveney, who resigned in June, was just one of several Massachusetts officials to testify on Beacon Hill this week about widespread problems with the RMV’s handling of electronic and mailed notifications about law-breaking drivers from other states.

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In testimony Tuesday, Deveney said Massachusetts’ unique, longstanding agreement to share driver information electronically with New Hampshire had faltered in 2017.

Massachusetts, she said, has continued to provide notifications to its northern neighbors about New Hampshire drivers who violate the law in Massachusetts. But New Hampshire didn’t reciprocate, she said.

“I didn’t have authority to compel New Hampshire to resume their electronic sharing of information with Massachusetts,” she told the legislative committee.

Deveney, who resigned amid fallout from the fatal crash, could not be reached Friday.

Erin Deveney, who resigned as registrar following a fatal N.H. crash, listened to a lawmaker’s question on Tuesday.
Erin Deveney, who resigned as registrar following a fatal N.H. crash, listened to a lawmaker’s question on Tuesday.JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

“Massachusetts is continuing to work with New Hampshire to improve communication on drivers license issues,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the Registry, in a statement.

Governor Charlie Baker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the criticism of his administration from a fellow Republican governor.

Representative William Straus, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, said it’s unclear who is to blame amid the war of words between state officials.

The two states had set up a sharing agreement to notify each other of traffic scofflaws, but the system failed, Straus noted. The Massachusetts Registry revamped its electronic records system in March 2018.

“We’re still trying to figure out if in setting up the new system our employees didn’t take into account that we had this unique arrangement [with New Hampshire],” Straus said.

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The fiery statement from Sununu’s administration is not the first time that officials from New England states have pointed fingers since the fatal crash.

In the immediate aftermath, Massachusetts officials claimed that Connecticut “failed to provide sufficient information” about the arrest through a national tracking system for commercial drivers.

Tony Guerrera, deputy commissioner of Connecticut’s motor vehicles department, pushed back, saying the department reviewed the case and found that its internal reporting protocols were followed properly.

“Unless someone can show me something different, I think we dotted all of our I’s and crossed our T’s,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which runs the national alert system, later said Connecticut officials followed the correct procedure.


Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Vernal Coleman can be reached at vernal.coleman@globe.com.