BOSTON — Lawmakers are calling for stepped-up oversight of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles following revelations the agency failed to suspend the licenses of hundreds of drivers with out-of-state violations, including a man who is charged in the deaths of seven people on motorcycles in a fiery New Hampshire crash two weeks ago.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters Monday that a preliminary investigation found the registry didn't act on information provided by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles about a drunken-driving arrest of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a 23-year-old West Springfield man who has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of negligent homicide.
Connecticut officials twice alerted the Massachusetts RMV about the drunken-driving arrest of Zhukovskyy, but the agency failed to suspend his commercial driver's license as required.
Gov. Charlie Baker called the agency's failure to act on Zhukovskyy's driving violations weeks after being notified "deeply troubling and completely unacceptable."
The fallout from the crash led to the resignation of RMV chief Erin Deveney and sparked a probe that uncovered hundreds of other drivers whose licenses should have been suspended.
Lawmakers say the preliminary findings point to systemic problems within the registry, and some are calling for legislative oversight hearings and tougher regulations for the agency.
"Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for this to come to light," said state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury. "We had no idea this was happening, but we need to get to the bottom of it."
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said she wants the Legislature to hold oversight hearings on the RMV once the dust settles from the Baker administration's investigation.
"There are no excuses for this oversight — it never should have happened," Campbell said. "We need to hear from the secretary about how this is going to be addressed."
Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, said lawmakers "need more information to get to the root of the problem, so we can prevent something like this from happening again."
Lawmakers have stopped short of calling for Pollack to step down over the growing scandal, saying they want to see the final results of the investigation.
"We need to give the governor the opportunity to conduct his review," said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. "I want to see what findings and recommendations they come up with."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, told reporters that lawmakers are waiting for more details to determine if there is need for a legislative review.
Pollack told reporters at the briefing that it appears nobody at the RMV was assigned the task of reviewing state-to-state notices over the past year. She said the probe uncovered hundreds of drivers who should have had their Massachusetts licenses suspended for driving under the influence elsewhere but were allowed to stay on the road.
Based on the findings, the state has processed 655 driver license suspensions involving 546 individuals’ licenses, all involving alcohol-related offenses, she said.
Investigators are still trying to determine why the registry's Merit Rating Board, which follows the driving records of Massachusetts license holders including out-of-state infractions, stored the records instead of processing them.
Investigators found more than 50 bins at the agency's Quincy headquarters containing thousands of notices from other states, Pollack said.
"We're still trying to determine why in March 2018 people stopped processing the notifications," she said. "These papers seemed to have been put aside without being looked at."
Pollack, who has brushed off suggestions that she should resign, said the state has taken a number of steps to fix the problems and will have an independent auditor review the findings.
Out-of-state notifications about driving offenses are now being processed within one business day, Pollack said.
RMV officials are taking the additional step of cross-referencing all of the state's 5.2 million license holders with a federal database of motor vehicle infractions.
"This failure is completely unacceptable to me, to the residents of the commonwealth who expect the RMV to do its job and track drivers' records," Baker said at the briefing. "The registry must live up to its responsibility to track all violations, no matter where they take place and take proper action on drivers who do not deserve to be on our roads."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.