Four weeks have passed since Volodymyr Zhukovskyy allegedly crashed head-on into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, killing seven people.
What began as a controversy over how Zhukovskyy was allowed to retain his license despite a troubled driving record, has since widened into a statewide scandal that has engulfed the Registry of Motor Vehicles and brought scrutiny on Governor Charlie Baker.
RMV registrar Erin Deveney resigned and authorities discovered thousands of unprocessed mail notifications about troubled Massachusetts drivers sitting, apparently unread, in 53 bins inside a Quincy office building.
Meanwhile, Baker has promised an end-to-end review of RMV procedures. Despite periodic public statements, state authorities have yet to provide answers to key questions still looming over the scandal. Spokespeople for Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment Friday morning. Later in the day, the administration issued a statement about Baker’s intention to file legislation.
With investigations looming, and state legislators poised to conduct oversight hearings, here’s what we still don’t know:
Commercial driver notifications
Massachusetts authorities concede that Zhukovskyy’s commercial driving license should have been suspended before the New Hampshire crash and that the RMV either missed or ignored notifications from Connecticut.
Authorities with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the agency that oversees the RMV, said all other notifications sent via a national database have since been processed. But officials have yet to answer questions about or detail just how far back the missed notifications stretch.
In May, police in East Windsor, Conn. arrested Zhukovskyy for allegedly driving under the influence, an incident that should have resulted in a suspension of his Massachusetts commercial driving license.
Registry officials have not said they were notified about additional infractions by Zhukovskyy. Meanwhile, the full extent of his driving history remains unclear.
About the unprocessed mail
In March 2018, the RMV rolled out a new records management system.
For reasons that have not been explained, the agency began ignoring paper mail notifications about Massachusetts drivers cited or convicted for breaking driving laws in other states. A RMV review of the missed notification alerts led to the suspension of 1,607 Massachusetts drivers.
But RMV officials have yet to say which states sent the alerts, identify the drivers or say if they were involved in serious incidents after the alerts were sent. Meanwhile, officials have acknowledged that the number of suspensions could grow as the investigation continues.
About the unsent mail
As part of the review, state authorities admitted that the RMV does not consistently mail notifications to other states when drivers from those states break laws in Massachusetts. Instead, the agency has relied on out-of-state motor vehicle authorities to check a national driving record database to find records of Massachusetts driving violations. The practice has been in place for years, but state officials have not explained the reasons behind it.
Who is responsible?
Baker, whose administration hasn’t cast blame on anyone for the scandal, said he has “full confidence” that longtime transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack will fix the issues.
Thomas Bowes, the leader of the Merit Rating Board, the agency sub-division tasked with processing paper alerts from other states, was 3,200 miles away in Europe when the scandal broke. Bowes has declined to answer questions about his role. He remains in his $114,455-a-year post.
In the weeks since the scandal broke, Baker commissioned a forensic audit of the agency’s procedures for dealing with out-of-state notifications. For now, the RMV plans to mail alerts to other states whenever out-of-state drivers are suspended in Massachusetts. A plan for a new notification process is under development.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature Joint Committee on Transportation has scheduled an oversight hearing for Monday and requested that Deveney, Bowes, and several other key figures to testify.Vernal Coleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.