A Massachusetts psychologist tried to blow the whistle on lapses at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but he says his warning was ignored.
Dr. Stephen Boy wrote to the RMV in April 2019 to express concern that clients charged with drunken driving in New Hampshire did not receive license suspensions in Massachusetts, allowing them to remain on the road.
"I was worried," Boy told the NBC10 Boston Investigators Thursday. "I was worried there would be something that would happen that was essentially wrong and dangerous."
Boy, who specializes in treating substance use disorders, said the Registry previously suspended his clients' driving privileges when they were arrested out of state, but ceased taking action sometime last year.
"I decided I would at least write and hoped to hear from the registrar or registrar's assistant just to let them know it was a real issue," he said.
Seven members of a New England motorcycle club were killed June 21 when a truck pulling a car hauler crashed into the group. The man driving the truck had been charged with drunken driving in Connecticut in May, and his license should have been suspended, according to the RMV. State officials failed to act on two notifications they received from Connecticut about the May arrest. He's been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide and is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty.
In the wake of the crash, transportation officials revealed that the RMV failed to process thousands of notifications it received from other states. The registry has since issued more than 1,600 suspensions to drivers charged with drunken driving and other offenses.
At a bombshell hearing Tuesday at the statehouse, RMV officials divulged they were long aware of lapses in processing out-of-state notifications, pegging the problem on limited staffing and changes in the Registry's computer system.
Boy's correspondence briefly took center stage at the oversight hearing, where lawmakers questioned RMV staffers about how they responded to his warning.
Boy said the Registry's ombudsman, who acts as a liaison to the public, told him the agency would review the information he provided, but the doctor heard nothing more.
Internal emails obtained by the Joint Committee on Transportation show the ombudsman forwarded Boy's letter to a staffer at the Department of Transportation, who acknowledged that the RMV's system for tracking notices from New Hampshire may not be working. The issue "should be a major concern," she wrote. And added, "Sound the alarm."
Testifying Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told lawmakers the warning from Boy was among the red flags agency leaders missed.
"Tragically ... these warning signs were not heeded," Pollack said, "and again, I must repeat my deep sorrow regarding the events of June 21 and my most sincere apologies for the Registry's failures."
Boy believes at least 20 current patients face drunken driving convictions in New Hampshire, but to his knowledge, they have yet to see any repercussions for their driving privileges in Massachusetts.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation, which oversees the RMV, told NBC10 Boston that the Registry sent notices by priority mail to all drivers whose driving privileges were suspended as a result of the Registry's recent review of out-of-state violations.
The scandal led to the resignation of former Registrar Erin Deveney, who apologized this week to the families of victims killed in the New Hampshire crash.
During testimony before the Legislature, Registry officials revealed the agency was long aware of lapses in processing out-of-state notifications, which piled up in its Quincy headquarters.
By late 2016, some 10,000 notifications were waiting to be processed, filling 72 cardboard storage boxes. At that time, supervisors transferred responsibility for the work from the RMV's Driver Control Unit to the Merit Rating Board, which updates driving records and issues license suspensions.
Thomas Bowes, director of the board, told lawmakers Tuesday that his office began processing out-of-state violations, but fell behind again last year when the RMV adopted a new software system. Bowes said the change set his staff back for weeks, requiring them to learn a new data entry system and review some notifications manually to ensure the state's records were accurate.
With work piling up, the Merit Rating Board began prioritizing in-state violation records, Bowes said. In the meantime, the backlog of out-of-state notifications grew, reaching nearly 13,000 unprocessed notifications by this spring.
An auditor flagged the issue to top Registry officials, writing in an April 2019 memo that responsibility for processing the notifications should be moved back to the Driver Control Unit. The Registry planned to carry out the change by June 28, the week after the deadly crash.