Van crash highlights history of violations

But Mass.-only check let driver behind wheel

By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / August 3, 2011

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NEWTON - Because regulators do not review out-of-state driving records, they missed a litany of prior violations committed by a driver who crashed Monday, injuring 12 adults with special needs, a transportation official acknowledged yesterday.

The driver, Addis Gabriel Woldeguiorguis, 51, of Dorchester, has a traffic history three pages long in New York, with violations dating back to 1980, and a 2005 notation for possession of drugs, his driving records show.

Officials never saw those violations because regulators look only at a driver’s Massachusetts record when reviewing the credentials of contracted drivers. The crash has prompted state officials to examine the review process.

Jennifer Kritz, communications director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said her department is “conducting a thorough review of the transportation provider’s actions and performance, as well as the hiring practices related to this specific driver, in order to determine whether any action is necessary.’’

About 9 a.m. Monday, Woldeguiorguis allegedly drove a passenger van into a parked garbage truck in Newton, then told police he had taken two oxycodone pills four hours before the crash for foot pain and that he suffers from prostate cancer, tuberculosis, and diabetes.

Police also said they found a broken crack pipe, a plastic bag containing suspected crack cocaine, and several other empty plastic bags in a green carrying bag taken from the crumpled van following the crash on Highland Street.

“I would think, moving forward, that this is a perfect example of our need for more information,’’ said Rebecca Badgley, chief operations officer for the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, which contracted with the company that hired Woldeguiorguis.

The state office of Health and Human Services sets requirements for drivers who are contracted for transportation services to agencies like the Price Center.

Regional transit authorities act as brokers for the state and subcontract with transportation providers, in this case AART Transportation of Newton, through a bidding process, Kritz said.

Among the state requirements, drivers must undergo a Criminal Offender Record Information check and a review of their driving records. But the scope of the required checks is limited to within the Commonwealth, Badgley said.

Under the state requirements, for example, Woldeguiorguis’s citation for leaving the scene of an accident in 2002 would have disqualified him from working under the state’s contract, except that it happened in New York.

Nonetheless, all of the requirements were met for Woldeguiorguis, Badgley said, adding that his CORI report “doesn’t show anything.’’

Woldeguiorguis was charged yesterday in Newton District Court with driving while under the influence of drugs and drug possession. Judge Dyanne J. Klein ordered him held on $5,000 bail and banned him from driving.

His attorney, Godson Anosike of Cambridge, said Woldeguiorguis would probably not make bail.

“I’m asking everyone to keep an open mind because we don’t have all the evidence at this point,’’ Anosike said after the arraignment, referring to the results of Woldeguiorguis’s blood test for drugs, which have not been released.

Woldeguiorguis addressed Klein during his arraignment, saying his past “is what it is: the past,’’ and that the crash came as he was working a steady job.

“I was hurting, as well,’’ he said. “I carried their blood on me, your honor.’’

According to a Newton police report, Woldeguiorguis told authorities he was distracted by the sun’s glare before smashing into the rear of the garbage truck. He said he had completed his pickup of 12 adults and was taking them to the Price Center in Newton, where the president of the center said the passengers were to receive employment or rehabilitation services.

Of three passengers hospitalized yesterday afternoon, two remained in intensive care last night. The others were treated and released, police said.

Meanwhile, the father of a passenger in the van said his 29-year-old daughter was shaken by the crash. He said she had not complained about the transportation in the two months she had been using the service.

“That’s never been an issue before,’’ said Joe Shulman, 56, of Sharon. He added that the Price Center “couldn’t have been more responsive. They’re a great organization.’’

When police asked Woldeguiorguis if he had taken any drugs or alcohol, he reported his use of the oxycodone, for which he had a valid prescription, according to the police report. He told police he took low doses, about 5 to 10 milligrams.

He also told police that his employers knew about his use of the painkiller while he drove for the company. A man who answered the phone at AART declined to comment.

Justin Sallaway, president of the Price Center, said the passengers on Monday’s route typically arrive at the Border Street facility at about 8:30 a.m. and that it was unusual for the van to be late. The crash occurred less than a mile from the center, about 40 minutes after it was due.

Woldeguiorguis had been driving the route since July 6, Badgley said.

“He felt very bad,’’ Anosike said. “Especially because these are the people that he has been working with.’’

Globe correspondent Derek McLean contributed to this report. Ben Wolford can be reached at