Interstate finger-pointing after deadly crash

It seems well established that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy drove the truck that killed seven motorcyclists in the White Mountains last weekend, but what is less clear why he still had a license to drive it.

The deadly crash has opened up a rift between state transportation officials in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and also spurred a review of the systems used by the Bay State’s Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Zhukovskyy is 23 but he has already lived many hard years, struggling with alcohol, heroin, and cocaine abuse, according to the Boston Globe, which interviewed the former director of a rehab center in Pennsylvania where Zhukovskyy stayed for three months.

A native of Ukraine, Zhukovskyy faces seven charges of negligent homicide. While he sits in jail in New Hampshire and faces possible deportation, reporters have scoured his cross-country criminal record. Among the findings, an arrest video from Texas where police found a crack pipe on a hepped-up Zhukovskyy. He was busted in Ohio for driving on a suspended license, and knocked for a lane violation in Iowa. Then on May 11, in East Windsor, Connecticut, the West Springfield resident was arrested and charged with intoxicated driving.

Connecticut relayed information about that arrest to Massachusetts officials, but it didn’t get through to keep Zhukovskyy off the road.

Erin Deveney, who had served in the Patrick administration and was Gov. Charlie Baker’s registrar of motor vehicles, resigned her post in the wake of Saturday’s crash, but Massachusetts officials also claimed Connecticut had erred in the lead-up to the tragedy.

“Because the information came in a manner that was not consistent with the guidelines, the automatic suspension did not get triggered, and the information needed to be processed manually, which had not been done at the time of this accident,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Wednesday, vowing to get to the bottom of what went wrong procedurally. “There are seven beautiful lives lost in a very very tragic accident. We take our responsibilities very seriously, and we put in place a process to undertake a very deep review and make sure we’re doing our jobs for the people of this Commonwealth.”

The story is at once painfully violent – cutting short the lives of bikers in the Jarheads MC club in a fiery wreck – and mind-numbingly bureaucratic. It is also a scandal unfolding while Baker is overseas in England. Addressing reporters after a meeting of the Governor’s Council on Wednesday, Polito demonstrated a command of the facts, at least as Massachusetts officials see them.

Tony Guerrera, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, said his department followed the law, and “it’s unfortunate what happened in Massachusetts, [but] that’s on them, unfortunately, in regards to reaction time,” according to the Hartford Courant. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators seems to agree, confirming that Connecticut followed the “established process.”

The RMV of today is different than it was when Baker took office. Only about a year ago, the RMV swapped out its ancient computer system for a new one capable of handling the federal government’s REAL ID requirements. There was another recent change to the RMV’s systems that may have some passing relevance as officials try to sort out how the recent tragedy could have been prevented. Three years ago, Baker signed a law repealing an old War on Drugs statute that automatically suspended the driver’s licenses of people convicted of drug crimes that are completely unrelated to driving – such as simple possession. The repeal law was heralded as a way of removing an expensive hurdle to people suffering from addiction so they can get their lives back on track.

Taking away someone’s driver’s license can condemn them to joblessness and economic ruin, but giving someone a license has consequences too. Traffic fatalities nationwide numbered 40,000 for the third straight year in 2018, according to the National Safety Council.

On Beacon Hill, lawmakers are addressing the issue of dangerous driving right now in two very different ways. After both the House and Senate passed bills that would outlaw use of handheld phones by drivers, a small group of lawmakers has begun negotiating a final version to send to the governor’s desk. Also, on Thursday, Senate President Karen Spilka referred to the Senate Ethics Committee a matter involving one of her fellow Democrats, Brockton Sen. Michael Brady.

Brady was arrested for drunk driving last year, and earlier this month he admitted prosecutors had sufficient facts to convict him. He has not pled guilty and the case will be dismissed if he keeps out of trouble. While Sen. Eric Lesser, the Ethics chairman, plans to pursue an inquiry into the matter, Brady wishes it wouldn’t go any further.

“I’ve had my day in court. I’ve abided by the outcome of the court case, and I just disagree. It was discussed, but I disagree it has to go any further than this, about the decision to send it to an Ethics thing. But I’m learning about the process and I’m going to deal with the process as it goes along,” Brady said, according to the State House News Service.

These are all disparate developments, but there is a common thread about the danger, and even lethality, of motor vehicles, and how officials get a handle on that.

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

Lisa Wieland, the port director at the Massachusetts Port Authority, moved up to the CEO’s job, beating out Brian Golden, the head of the Boston Planning and Development Agency. (CommonWealth)

The Senate referred consideration of Sen. Michael Brady of Brockton to the Senate Ethics Committee in the wake of his admission of sufficient facts in a drunk driving case. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL

Planned Parenthood gave a presentation at a Worcester-sponsored event preparing young people for the workplace, but now the city is saying the organization’s talk was “overly political.” One city councilor called it propaganda. The dispute comes against a backdrop of controversy over sex education in city schools. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The US Supreme Court voted 5-4 to block a citizenship question from being added to Census forms. Attorney General Maura Healey, one of many state attorneys general who challenged the decision in court, hailed the ruling as a major victory. (CommonWealth)

In another decision, also on a 5-4 vote, the nation’s highest court held that the courts cannot meddle with redistricting maps. The decision means gerrymandering will have to be addressed in Congress or at the state level. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

Joe Biden was the target in yesterday’s second round of Democratic presidential debates, and it was Kamala Harris who landed the toughest blows, calling out his longtime opposition to school busing. (Washington Post)

Congressman Seth Moulton, who didn’t make it onto the debate stage, says he thinks Biden should have apologized and moved on, and shares other thoughts on some of the issues presented during two nights of debate. (WGBH)

Meanwhile, Jamie Belsito formally announced she will run for Moulton’s seat in Congress as a Democrat. (Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

This weekend will mark the final races at Suffolk Downs, but the track operators are holding out hope that the state’s horse race industry could still survive — in Great Barrington. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Incoming Boston school superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced her executive leadership team, a group that includes a number of Latinos in a district where critics say they have been badly underrepresented in top posts. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the union representing its 3,400 nurses quietly reached a two-year contract agreement, a very different tone from the acrimonious negotiations of three years ago. (Boston Globe)

Joel Kergaravat told a state commission that he witnesses brutal fistfights at a secure facility in Plymouth for people with drug and alcohol addiction, and now a majority of that commission recommends ending the practice of civilly committing people to correctional facilities. (WBUR)

ARTS/CULTURE

Artist Steve Locke wants a memorial installed in front of Faneuil Hall to spread the word that people were sold as slaves on the site. (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Opponents of a natural gas compressor station proposed for a site in Weymouth were dealt another blow Thursday as a state adjudicator recommended the approval of an air-quality permit for the project. Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Martin Suuberg has the final say on the approval of the permit, but Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund said he doesn’t expect Suuberg to deny it. (Patriot Ledger) 

Vineyard Wind’s decision to move three turbines farther away from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket makes no significant difference to the preservation of fishing grounds, fisheries sources say. The offshore wind company is moving planned turbine locations to avoid a squid fishing area. (Standard-Times) 

CASINOS

Encore Boston Harbor wins its operating certificate from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission amid reports traffic is operating fairly smoothly at the Everett facility so far. (CommonWealth)

Sen. Michael Brady urged the Gaming Commission to give Brocktonsecond crack at landing a casino license.The discussion of revisiting the bidding for the Region C license stems from a request for the Gaming Commission to reconsider its 2016 denial of a bid to build a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds. (Brockton Enterprise) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Essex district attorney is investigating the deaths of three children in separate incidents, since mid-April, who were under the care of the state’s Department of Children and Families. (Boston Globe)

Two more defendants plead guilty in federal court in Boston to charges in the college admission scandal. (Boston Globe)

Actor Kevin Spacey now faces a civil lawsuit in connection with an alleged sexual assault at a Nantucket bar and restaurant in July 2016. His accuser filed the suit Wednesday in Nantucket Superior Court seeking damages for assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress. (Cape Cod Times) 

Fall River police officer Michael Pessoa pleaded not guilty in Superior Court Thursday to indictments charging him with more than a dozen felony criminal charges for allegedly assaulting four people while on the job over the past several years. (Herald News) 

Meet Joe Bernard, the lawyer who challenged the accuracy of the state’s breathalyzer tests and forced reforms. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Michael Baker, a 40-year-old Ipswich man accused of carrying his ex-girlfriend into the path of a truck, was found dead in his jail cell. (Gloucester Daily Times)