FILE - In this July 6, 2019, file photo, motorcyclists participate in a ride in Randolph, N.H., to remember seven bikers killed there in a collision with a pickup truck in June. State transportation officials in Massachusetts are expected to be questioned during a legislative oversight hearing on Monday, July 22, 2019, in Boston, about the Registry of Motor Vehicles' failure to suspend the commercial license of the truck driver charged in the crash that killed the seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire. (Paul Hayes/Caledonian-Record via AP, File)

Lawmakers suspend inquiry into motor vehicle agency

July 22, 2019 - 9:23 am

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts lawmakers opened and then abruptly suspended their inquiry Monday into troubles at the state motor vehicle department that were exposed by a crash that killed seven motorcyclists.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation voted to recess just minutes into its oversight hearing after Gov. Charlie Baker's administration didn't make some requested officials available for testimony.

Democratic state Rep. William Strauss, the committee's co-chair, expressed frustration the Republican administration didn't make certain registry officials available for testimony and also didn't provide a trove of requested documents. The committee had sought internal correspondences and other registry records and data.

"We owe it under the horrible circumstances of this case to find out information and get the witnesses," he said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Acting Registrar Jamey Tesler had been present and prepared to testify at the hearing.

But Pollack warned her agency would not be able to meet the committee's full request for information and witnesses because of its own investigation into lapses at the registry. She said later the administration will work with the committee on a way forward.

Strauss, whose committee lacks subpoena power, said he and fellow committee co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore will confer with the Legislature's leadership on next steps.

The hearing was prompted by a June 21 crash that killed members or supporters of the Jarheads, a New England motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses.

Connecticut officials twice alerted Massachusetts about a drunken driving arrest against Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, but the registry failed to suspend the West Springfield man's license before the deadly crash in Randolph, New Hampshire.

Zhukovskyy, 23, has pleaded not guilty to negligent homicide and remains behind bars.

Massachusetts officials later revealed the registry had been storing notifications of serious out-of-state driving violations since March 2018 instead of acting on them.

The registry's top official, Erin Devaney, resigned days after the crash.

Baker's administration has said an ongoing review has led to some 1,600 drivers having their licenses suspended.

Baker has also proposed legislation raising the state's standards for commercial driver's licenses above federal standards.

Under the bill, those applying for a commercial driver's license would have to demonstrate a history of good driving and would be ineligible if they have been suspended or disqualified from driving at any time in the prior three years.