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Who Taught You to Drive?

Picking up the pieces after an Expressway crash

A dump truck that veered off Interstate 93 north into Dorchester Bay in late January got full media coverage. But what caused the crash? And how can you generally track such things?

Photos by Bill Brett for The Boston Globe/File

A dump truck that veered off Interstate 93 north into Dorchester Bay in late January got full media coverage. But what caused the crash? And how can you generally track such things?

On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a dump truck went swimming in Dorchester Bay — and the media was all over it. For hours, images of the tipped-over truck were splashed across television and computer screens. Traffic along Interstate 93 north, where the truck broke through a guard rail, was predictably nightmarish.

In the larger picture, the accident, however memorable, was but a blip in our ever-updating news cycle. No one was hurt, and travel eventually returned to normal. By Tuesday morning, the media had moved on to bigger fish.

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At least one person I know of, though — column reader Tom Hughes of Topsfield — kept waiting for the rest of the story.

“All the news reports that day said the accident was under investigation,” Hughes e-mailed me recently. “We never hear later what caused it. And more importantly, why isn’t there any repercussion to the trucking company that caused disruption to so many people that morning?”

I was planning on updating some of my recent columns today, so Hughes’s questions fit nicely into our theme. Why didn’t we hear any more about that trucking mishap? Read on, and I’ll explain.

Following
the truck trail

Ideally, reporters would follow up and report on every loose end in a story. But having worked a few years in the Globe newsroom as a breaking-news reporter, I can tell you how impossible that would be. Time and staffing constraints, and that never-ending news cycle, are tough realities to overcome.

Had people been badly injured or even killed in the dump-truck accident, or had the water been badly contaminated, I’m sure you would have heard more about it. But as the story didn’t have much lasting importance, there was no follow-up.

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Lacking a news update, how could the average reader, such as Hughes, learn more?

Well, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration posts trucking companies’ safety records on its website, safer.fmcsa.dot.gov . Searching for Mobile Excavating Corp. of Medway, which owns the dump truck, you’ll see that the company has had two accidents in the past two years in which towing was required, neither of which involved an injury. Mobile Excavating also has an overall subpar inspection record. For $20, you can obtain a more detailed report.

Or, for $20, you could try to obtain a copy of the accident report through the Registry of Motor Vehicles. For your request to be processed, though, you would need either the driver’s license number or the truck’s registration plate number.

Lacking those details, you could alternatively file a public records request with the State Police’s head office or legal section. (The state’s Public Records Division could tell you how. It’s not that hard.)

State Police spokesman David Procopio said his office can often provide information as well if you just ask.

“Citizens interested in the outcome of a case that previously received media attention may call the Media Relations Office at 508-820-2623 and ask about it. We would provide whatever information, if any, that could be publicly released at that time,” Procopio told me. “They may also communicate their question with us through our Twitter feed or Facebook page, and we will respond with as much information as it is possible to release without compromising privacy or ongoing investigations.”

As for that soggy dump truck, investigators determined that the vehicle’s right front tire “basically . . . came apart” on Interstate 93, causing the truck to veer through the guardrail, Procopio said. Mobile Excavating was not charged with any wrongdoing: Whatever caused the tire to break up apparently wasn’t an issue when the vehicle was last inspected.

“The truck, obviously, was taken out of service and numerous damaged areas will need to be repaired before it can be put back into service,” Procopio said.

I also called the company, which Hughes, or anyone else, is certainly free to do. The woman who answered told me that Mobile Excavating’s auto insurer was still reviewing the accident; she declined to comment further.

Charity plates wait for state’s OK

In my last column, I wrote about House Bill 3136, which would make it easier for nonprofit organizations to get their own state-approved license plate, as the Red Sox Foundation and Children’s Hospital Boston have done. The bill was supposed to have been discussed last week, but that’s now been pushed back to May 15.

In the interim, I’ve heard of more plates we could be seeing if the state lowers the number of required, presold plates to 500 per charity.

The Plymouth 400 Committee, which has presold more than 1,000 plates to celebrate the town’s founding in 1620, would be first in line. The Nantucket License Plate Committee, with 800 plates already sold, would come next. Mass Fallen Heroes, whose plate would raise funds for a memorial to Massachusetts service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, has also presold 500 plates, according to executive director Dan Magoon.

Good news? It’s a parking ticket

Back in January, I told reader Gene Walsh of Tewksbury to prepare himself for an increase in his car insurance. Walsh had just gotten a ticket while parking in Boston — but not for a meter violation. He was tagged for an expired inspection sticker, a moving violation under state law.

Sergeant Paul Sicard, safety officer for the Westwood Police Department, happened to read about Walsh’s ticket and dropped me a note. The ticket Walsh got was not a moving violation, Sicard said, but instead a violation of a Boston ordinance forbidding cars with expired inspection stickers to be parked on city streets.

“As a parking ticket, it would not get reported to the Merit Rating Board, and therefore no surcharge,” Sicard wrote me.

Boston Transportation Department officials had originally told me that Walsh’s ticket was for a moving violation. Calling them back on Sicard’s advice, I was told that Walsh’s ticket is indeed just a parking ticket, and that his insurance should not be affected.

Seeing the light
on glow plugs

Earlier this winter, I asked mechanics for potential reasons a car engine might not work. Things like having water in the fuel line, or a faulty starter motor, made the list.

Reader Ed McGowan of Roslindale said we missed a common culprit, though.

“It might serve a useful purpose to add . . . the challenges presented by diesels, with their routines attached to the glow plug,” McGowan wrote.

If you’ve never owned a vehicle that uses diesel, you probably don’t know what a glow plug is. So I thought it best to ask David Protano, who chairs the automotive department at Boston’s Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, for a full explanation.

“A cold diesel engine is difficult to start,” he said. “In simplest terms, glow plugs are electrical heating elements that heat the air in the precombustion chamber of diesel engines to assist the starting in cold temperatures.”

Simply put, if the glow plugs fail or malfunction, a diesel engine might not start.

Peter DeMarco can be reached at peter.demarco@globe.com. His Facebook page is “Who Taught You to Drive?”and on Twitter @whotaughtU2driv.
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