For a moment in late May, a few seconds really, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had a chance to get Volodymyr Zhukovskyy off the road.
An RMV employee who was checking a queue of notices the Registry had received about drivers opened Zhukovskyy’s electronic record and saw an alert and note suggesting Zhukovskyy’s commercial license should be suspended. A few weeks earlier he had refused a chemical sobriety test in Connecticut.
But the employee closed the file after just seven seconds, moving on without making any changes. He later told investigators that he took no action against the troubled 23-year-old truck driver because he had never been trained to.
That missed chance, detailed in a stunning audit released by the state Friday, adds to the avalanche of failures committed by the Registry in policing bad drivers such as Zhukovskyy. A month later, Zhukovskyy allegedly killed seven people in a horrifying crash in New Hampshire while on an assignment for his trucking company.
“I read that and my jaw dropped,” said State Senator Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat. “This isn’t just about pushing paper. These are pretty essential public safety issues.”
The 60-page audit by Grant Thornton LLP, the firm hired by the state to review the Registry’s actions amid a still-widening scandal, found the agency not only failed to monitor commercial drivers, but had a massive backlog — at one point, about 10,000 alerts — of Massachusetts drivers who broke traffic laws in other states.
Brittany Mazza, whose father, Albert L. Mazza Jr., was killed in the crash, said Friday she wonders how many other times Registry workers skimmed over the record for troubled drivers without acting.
“How many accidents have happened because nobody double-checked or nobody handed it to the right person?” said Mazza, who lives in Derry, N.H. “Neither you nor I are in a situation where people’s lives are at stake if you don’t process a piece of paper.”
Had the Registry suspended Zhukovskyy’s commercial driver’s license in late May, he would have received a written notice. With his license still active, he was subsequently hired by a company in West Springfield, Mass., which dispatched him to New Hampshire for the trucking job.
The auditors faulted the Registry for not having adequate controls over its day-to-day operations and laid blame across the state agency. The report noted that Stephanie Pollack, Governor Charlie Baker’s top transportation aide, said she hadn’t been told about the backlogs.
Auditors also found the RMV’s efforts to remedy its backlog have been spotty at best. Officials didn’t act on some out-of-state notifications for Massachusetts drivers who committed “egregious” traffic violations.
A spokeswoman for Baker would not discuss the details of the audit, instead releasing a statement saying the administration is looking forward to a final report from Grant Thornton .
Acting Registrar Jamey Tesler said Friday he concurs with the auditing firm’s assessment. The Registry is in the process of hiring a chief compliance officer and other new staff to “ensure better coordination and control over the public safety aspects of the RMV,” he wrote in a letter to Pollack.
The June 21 crash in New Hampshire has led to a series of revelations of widespread neglect within the state agency. The new report provided a detailed timeline of the failures leading up the crash.
The Registry first received on May 29 an electronic notice about Zhukovskyy’s refusal to take the sobriety test after he was stopped by police in Connecticut. The RMV’s computer system diverted that alert into a queue requiring a manual review, the report said.
The report identified the Registry worker who accessed Zhukovskyy’s record as Michael Noronha. In an interview with auditors, Noronha said he had not been trained on posting convictions to driver records, and that he wasn’t assigned to do that task.
Noronha’s supervisor, Susan Crispin, raised concerns in March about the queue where the alert about Zhukovskyy ended up. Crispin told the system designers that some items were erroneously being sent to the queue, and asked for help. That request was pending the day Connecticut alerted Massachusetts about Zhukovskyy, the report said.
David J. Holway, president of National Association of Government Employees, which represents workers, defended Crispin and Noronha.
“They weren’t given proper training or supervision and they were assigned tasks outside the scope of the unit,” said Holway.
Crispin has worked at the Registry for 27 years and Noronha for 12 years, Holway said. The workers and the union cooperated with auditors, Holway noted. Neither Crispin nor Noronha could immediately be reached for comment.
The report also exposed lapses beyond the Zhukovskyy case, involving noncommercial drivers.
The Registry had stopped systematically processing notifications about Massachusetts drivers convicted of breaking traffic laws in other states in 2014, creating a backlog of thousands of notifications. Since the agency’s failings have been disclosed, more than 2,400 Massachusetts drivers have had their licenses suspended retroactively as part of the agency’s internal review, and there may be more to come.
In addition, auditors were critical of the state’s attempts to remedy the Registry’s problems. In its effort to clear its backlog of paper notifications, the Registry missed some out-of-state notifications for Massachusetts drivers who committed “egregious” traffic violations, according to the audit.
In particular, the report singled out five boxes of notifications from 2017 and 2018 that include alerts about alcohol-related offenses.
The Registry said Friday the triage process prioritized notifications about offenses that would trigger a license suspension and that it has reviewed all five boxes, including the alerts about alcohol-related offenses.
The Registry is in the processing of running records for the approximately 5.2 million drivers in Massachusetts against the National Driver Register. It plans to put a newly created Out of State Notification Processing Unit in charge of reviewing all the records that were processed during the triage period, an agency spokesman said.
Lesser, Senate vice chairman for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, said he was troubled by flaws that auditors found in the triage process used to clear the backlog of out-of-state notifications.
“It just makes your skin crawl,” he said.
Fallout from the revelations could continue Tuesday, when the Merit Rating Board is expected to meet and hold “possible votes on personnel changes,” according to a meeting agenda posted late Friday afternoon.
The Merit Rating Board has been under scrutiny following revelations that in March 2018 it stopped processing notifications about Massachusetts drivers who broke traffic laws in other states. The board’s director, Thomas Bowes, was vacationing in Europe in late June as Registry officials sifted through bins of out-of-state notifications that his workers neglected.
Registry officials said there were no changes in the board’s staff Friday, and that no other information was available about the meeting.