An independent investigation of a 2017 fatal motorcycle crash has ended without determining whether a State Police trooper acted properly when he stopped the woman who caused the collision but then let her go, shortly before the fatality.
However, investigators did conclude that the State Police did not deliberately withhold information from prosecutors, and called for changes to the rules governing the breath-test devices that are often ordered to be used by repeat drunken drivers, such as the woman who caused the crash.
Massachusetts State Police Colonel Kerry Gilpin ordered an independent probe of the case after the Globe reported the circumstances before and after the Aug. 24, 2017, death of Christopher Weisz, a 42-year-old father of three from Bedford.
Minutes before the fatal crash, Lynn DeWolfe was stopped by Trooper Daniel Hanafin on Route 3. DeWolfe, a twice convicted drunken driver who had a breath-test device on her car, had been involved in a rear-end crash. Hanafin did not charge her and let her go.
Minutes after she left the scene, DeWolfe crashed again, triggering a collision on Interstate 95 in Reading that killed Weisz, according to authorities.
According to Friday’s report, there were signs of impairment before De-Wolfe struck the vehicle on Route 3, and she was significantly impaired when she was arrested following the fatal crash.
“What we do not know is why she did not exhibit signs of impairment in Trooper [Daniel] Hanafin’s presence, and what, if any, drugs or medications she may have ingested after leaving the scene of the Route 3 accident prior to the fatal crash,” read the report. “Those unknowns are beyond the scope of this investigation.”
Christopher Weisz’s wife, Alexis, said she was grateful that the report detailed the repeated failures to keep DeWolfe off the road, but disagreed with some of the findings and was disappointed that it didn’t weigh in at all on whether a state trooper was negligent for letting the driver go minutes before the fatal crash.
“I think it clearly shows that the state troopers didn’t do their job,” she said.
State Police didn’t tell prosecutors for eight months about 911 calls before the fatal crash that reported DeWolfe’s erratic driving and they withheld details of Hanafin’s decision to let DeWolfe go. That information was given to prosecutors only after Globe inquiries.
The probe’s report was compiled by Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP of Boston, whose team included former Massachusetts attorney general Thomas F. Reilly.
The report said that State Police did not deliberately withhold information regarding the Route 3 crash from the Middlesex district attorney’s office.
In the earlier crash, Hanafin deemed the incident to be “a paper exchange” because no one was injured and neither vehicle appeared to have damage in excess of $1,000, according to Friday’s report. He didn’t detect any odor of alcohol from DeWolfe and did not observe any physical signs of impairment. At that scene, DeWolfe re-started her gray Saab by blowing into the breath-test device in her car without any problems, the report stated.
Less than 20 minutes later, authorities received multiple calls from concerned drivers that the gray Saab DeWolfe was driving was “being operated in an erratic manner on Interstate 95 North, subsequent calls reported that that the Saab was involved in various collisions, including the fatal accident involving Mr. Weisz,” read the report.
Following the fatal crash, DeWolfe, a 52-year-old Tyngsborough resident, told police she had taken Lorazepam, commonly used for anxiety, and Gabapentin, for back pain. Late last month, she pleaded guilty to causing the fatal crash while driving under the influence of drugs. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison.
The report also detailed a text exchange between Hanafin and another trooper, Michael Benevento. Benevento, referring to reports of DeWolfe’s car driving erratically on Interstate 95, after Hanafin let her go, texted Hanafin: “That’s your Saab probably.” In another text, Benevento told Hanafin he could text another trooper to “call here and keep it low,” according to the report.
The independent probe concluded that text exchange was irrelevant, because the trooper referenced in the text did not keep Hanafin’s interaction with DeWolfe, or anything related to the fatal crash, “low.”
In an internal State Police investigation of the matter, a captain sent a list of questions to Hanafin and Benevento, to which the troopers provided written responses. The report indicated the captain did not interview the troopers “because he was satisfied with their written responses to his questions.”
A message left with Hanafin’s attorney was not immediately returned on Friday. A State Police spokesman said that the agency will have no comment on the report until Gilpin has had a chance to review it thoroughly.
Independent investigators found that the State Police captain loaded the report of his probe into a “Blue Team” computer system, which is used by State Police Division of Standards and Training for internal affairs and personnel investigations. That system, according to Friday’s report, is “fairly restrictive, and is issued on an as-needed basis.”
The captain told two attorneys from the firm conducting the investigation that “he was unaware that the Blue Team system even existed until after he became a lieutenant.”
The Blue Team system is separate from the computer system used for criminal investigations conducted at the barracks level, according to the report.
The report revealed that a few weeks before Weisz was killed, DeWolfe allegedly was driving erratically in a vehicle without a tire on Interstate 495. Police responding to that call on July 17, 2017, described DeWolfe as “extremely confused,” and her car was towed from the scene, according to the report.
The report’s findings concluded that state rules that govern the use of breath-test devices in cars need to be altered.
“Lynn DeWolfe has been a danger to the driving public for over thirty years,” read the report’s conclusion.
“Perhaps it was her demonstrated guile that helped her to evade accountability for so long, but no excuses should be made for the fact that she should not have been licensed to operate a motor vehicle on August 24, 2017.”Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.