NEWBURYPORT — In the wake of a fatal drunken-driving crash involving an employee, Hi-Way Safety Systems — a Rockland company responsible for the botched line painting on High Street last summer — faces an uncertain future. As a result, so do the planned High Street repairs.
About 7 a.m. on Dec. 29, Gregory Goodsell allegedly crashed a Hi-Way Safety pickup truck into another vehicle in Pembroke, killing a 13-year-old passenger, Claire Zisserson. The 50-year-old woman driving and another child in the vehicle suffered serious injuries.
Hi-Way Safety said it has since fired Goodsell and that co-workers warned him against using a company vehicle before the tragedy.
The state Department of Transportation is now preventing Hi-Way Safety from bidding on state contracts amid questions about the company's safety and management, according to a State House News Service story.
MassDOT's prequalification committee decided last week to revoke Hi-Way Safety's prequalification certificate, effectively removing the company's ability to bid on state contracts.
Under state law, any project with a value of more than $50,000 requires a contractor to be prequalified. Less than a week after the incident, MassDOT said the company's status is "materially less favorable" than when it received an annual approval in April for state contract work.
Hi-Way Safety received $4.5 million in payments from the state in 2019, according to data posted by the state comptroller.
In Newburyport, Hi-Way Safety caused somewhat of an uproar from residents last summer after the company left the newly repaved High Street with curving, spotty and poorly spaced painted lines that Mayor Donna Holaday called the result of "poor workmanship."
In September, the contractor returned to remove the incorrectly painted lines, which required mechanically scraping off the pavement's new finish.
The job resulted in a set of rough groves that have since run along much of High Street. An engineering firm later determined that the grooves caused damage to the road's integrity.
Holaday said the city would take legal action to obtain the $400,000 needed to repave High Street in the coming months.
But with Hi-Way Safety facing severe challenges of its own, Holaday said she is unsure if the company would be able to follow through with the High Street repairs.
"We have filed with their insurance company a claim for High Street, but we're working with our legal team at KP Law to figure out what to do about that because that road has to be fixed this spring," Holaday said. "I don't know that a company can absorb a loss like this ... what if they declare bankruptcy?"
The mayor said "one way or another, we're going to figure out how to get that road fixed," and that another paving contractor working with the city is willing to fix the road, though the job "wouldn't be free."
After the fatal collision in Pembroke, Hi-Way Safety said the crash "has been a terrible tragedy and a nightmare for all involved."
"The employee involved in the motor vehicle crash violated multiple company policies, including the repeated unauthorized use of a company vehicle for personal use during non-work hours on the evening of December 28th and possession of alcohol in the vehicle," the company wrote.
"Early on December 29, the employee was told by co-workers to relinquish the keys to the company vehicle. He avoided that demand and again without authorization operated the vehicle. As a result of these violations and the tragedy that then occurred, his employment has been terminated."
The Plymouth County District Attorney's Office alleged that Goodsell, a 31-year-old Marshfield resident, was intoxicated and also under the influence of cocaine at the time of the crash. Police allegedly found a bottle of whiskey and a beer can in the work truck.
He pleaded not guilty Dec. 30 to a charge of manslaughter while operating under the influence, two charges of operating under the influence causing serious bodily injury, and one charge each of possession of an open alcohol container in a motor vehicle, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, speeding, failure to stop or yield at a signal, and improper passing, according to the DA's Office.
Plymouth District Court Judge James Sullivan deemed Goodsell dangerous and ordered him held without bail Friday.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended Goodsell's license following the crash.
Citing information supplied by the RMV, the Milford Daily News reported that Goodsell's driving record includes 13 prior violations and two surchargeable incidents in which he was deemed at fault since 2006.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.