Audit details the 7 seconds that might have prevented 7 deaths in N.H. motorcycle crash

Joey Garrison

BOSTON — Three weeks before a deadly crash in New Hampshire killed seven motorcyclists this summer, a Massachusetts vehicle registry worker accessed the driving-record file of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy on a computer.

The file had instructions to "add conviction" and process an out-of-state notification sent in from Connecticut that detailed a drunken-driving charge received by Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, on May 11.

It was among a list of work items that needed to be completed, which would have resulted in Zhukovskyy's license being suspended and a written notice had the worker followed through. 

But it turned into a missed opportunity. Instead, the registry worker exited after approximately seven seconds without making any changes, according to a new an outside audit conducted on the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles released Friday. 

The new 60-page audit, conducted by the firm Grant Thornton, shows confusion, errors and multiple missed opportunities by the registry in the weeks before Zhukovskyy crossed a double-yellow line with his Dodge truck and trailer on June 21 in Randolph, New Hampshire, colliding into a group of motorcyclists. Seven died and two were injured.

The worker, identified in the audit as Michael Noronha, accessed the account on May 29. He had clicked on Zhukovskyy's file after searching for a list of work items that needed to be performed. The charge in Connecticut should have resulted in Zhukovskyy's commercial driver's license being suspended.

But with no action taken, Zhukovskyy was subsequently hired by the trucking company Westfield Transport Inc. He was on his third day with the company before he crashed into the bikers.

Zhukovskyy has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of negligent homicide. Zhukovskyy  was high on drugs and claims he was reaching for a drink just before the collision, according to report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

More: Truck driver was on drugs, reaching for drink at time of deadly New Hampshire crash, report says

The audit highlights even more dysfunction at the Massachusetts Registry of Vehicles, which has been embroiled in scandal in the two months since the crash. The former registrar, Erin Deveney, resigned after the crash as the public became aware of a massive backlog of out-of-state driving notifications like Zhukovskyy's that had gone unprocessed.

The audit says that  Noronha stated in an interview that at the time he accessed the Zhukovskyy file he had not been trained on posting convictions of drivers' records and that it was not part of his assigned duties. 

"We verified with FAST (the computer software company Fast Enterprises, LLC, ) that while Mr. Noronha had the system authorization to post convictions to a driving record, he had not done so prior to the accident," the audit reads. "It does not appear that Mr. Noronha brought the open 'AAMVA Add Conviction' work item related to the Connecticut electronic notification to anyone else’s attention for resolution."

Acting Registrar Jamey Tesler offered support of the audit's findings in a letter Friday to Stephanie Pollack, secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the top transportation official in Gov. Charlie Baker's administration. 

More: Massachusetts RMV suspends 869 more drivers two months after deadly N.H. motorcycle crash

Tesler said the report "confirms our understanding of the underlying issues at the RMV as we have presented them to you in the course of the comprehensive investigation of RMV process failures since June 21st."

Another missed opportunity, according to the audit, came when the electronic notification from Connecticut about Zhukovskyy drunken-driving charges arrived on May 29, the same day the file was accessed. It was not automatically attached directly to his driving record and was instead entered on a queue that required manual intervention, the audit says. 

Susan Crispin leads the SPEX unit of the RMV and is the supervisor of Noronha. Crispin told auditors that she was under the impression since March that "certain items in that queue were erroneously labeled as items requiring posting on drivers’ records and should instead all be closed."

It was therefore Crispin's understanding, according to the audit, that she would not have to complete the items in the queue and instead rely on a configuration change in the computer system the RMV uses.

"Based on email communication we have reviewed, however, Ms. Crispin appears to have been aware that even if certain items may have been erroneously labeled as items requiring posting on drivers’ records, other items in that queue were not being erroneously labeled," the audit says. "As such, Ms. Crispin and the SPEX unit should have been completing any items in the manual intervention queue pending any new guidance from FAST regarding a possible system configuration change."

There were 364 total to-do items listed in the queue on the date of the New Hampshire crash, including Zhukovskyy's, according to the audit.

David J. Holway, president of National Association of Government Employees, which represents workers, defended Crispin and Noronha in a statement to the Boston Globe. Crispin has worked at the registry for 27 years while Noronha is a 12-year veteran of the department. 

“They weren’t given proper training or supervision and they were assigned tasks outside the scope of the unit,” Holway told the Globe.

The paper notice from Connecticut about Zhukovskyy's charge came to the Massachusetts RMV on June 4, according to the audit. But the state's Merit Rating Board, which handled such notices, had effectively stopped processing paper-out-of-state notifications to instead focus on in-state citations as the agency struggled to adapt to a new computer technology. 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

FILE - In this July 6, 2019, file photo, motorcyclists visit a memorial for seven bikers killed in a collision with a pickup truck last month while participating in the Ride for the Fallen 7 in Randolph, N.H. In a preliminary report released Wednesday, July 24, 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board summarized the details behind the June 21 crash in which a pickup truck driven by Volodymyr Zhukovskyy crashed into the bikers in Randolph, N.H. The report affirms early reports that Zhukovskyy crossed the center of the road and collided with the bikers.(Paul Hayes/Caledonian-Record via AP, File)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: N.H. motorcycle crash: Audit details confusion that led to deaths