Drug-Impaired Pickup Truck Driver Caused Crash That Killed 7 Motorcyclists

12/1/2020

WASHINGTON (Dec. 1, 2020) — A pickup truck driver under the influence of illicit drugs crossed the centerline of a rural Randolph, New Hampshire, highway June 21, 2019, striking a group of motorcyclists and killing seven of them, the National Transportation Safety Board announced in a public meeting held Tuesday.

The group of 15 motorcycles, carrying 15 riders and seven passengers, was traveling in staggered formation on U.S. Route 2 in Randolph when a pickup truck towing a trailer crossed the centerline of the two-lane highway and struck the lead motorcycle. That collision began a crash sequence involving 13 of the 15 motorcycles. In addition to the seven people killed, one motorcyclist was seriously injured. The pickup truck driver was uninjured.

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(In this photo taken June 21, 2019, the pickup truck and trailer that crashed into a group of 15 motorcycles is seen where it came to rest following the impact on U.S. 2. Photo Credit: New Hampshire State Police)

The 23-year-old pickup truck driver, who had a long history of drug abuse, told police he had used both heroin and cocaine on the day of the crash. Heroin is a highly impairing opioid and cocaine is a stimulant. Post-crash tests confirmed the presence of those drugs in the driver's system, in addition to morphine and fentanyl, also highly impairing drugs. Investigators said that the use of multiple drugs caused the impairment that likely led to the crash.

“This horrific crash was avoidable at many levels," said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. "The pickup truck driver was impaired from the use of multiple drugs. The motor carrier had an egregious disregard for safety and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles failed to suspend the driver's license for an offense in Connecticut. There are systems to catch these things and they all failed."

The driver, who held a Massachusetts commercial driver's license, was arrested in Connecticut on May 11, 2019, after failing a field sobriety test and refusing a urine drug test. The driver's privileges were suspended in Connecticut about five weeks before the crash in New Hampshire.  

Connecticut sent notices of the arrest both electronically and by mail to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), where state law would have led to immediate suspension of the driver's license to operate any kind of motor vehicle. Although the Massachusetts RMV received both the electronic and paper notices by May 29, 2019, no action to suspend the license was taken before the fatal June 21 crash.

Investigators said had the Massachusetts RMV taken timely action, the driver would not have had a valid license when he was hired by the interstate motor carrier, Westfield Transport, just two days before the crash. The NTSB concluded the problems with state-to-state notifications were not limited to Massachusetts and recommended states review their procedures for sending and receiving driver infraction and suspension notices and to remedy any deficiencies identified in the reviews.

The NTSB said although Westfield Transport successfully completed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) new entrant safety assurance program in January 2018, the three-year-old carrier exhibited a “substantial disregard for federal motor carrier safety regulations" and was a “motor carrier without regard for safety."

Non-compliance with regulations included Westfield's failure to conduct a background check on the accident driver or review his safety performance and driving history before he was hired.

The NTSB found that after Westfield exited the new entry program, it increased the number of vehicles it operated and hired additional drivers, which led to more roadside inspections and an increase in their rate of violations. This uptick caused the FMCSA to categorize Westfield as a “moderate-risk" carrier (the second highest risk of five FMCSA categories) four months before the crash. That categorization wasn't enough to trigger additional scrutiny in the form of a compliance review, which might have revealed just how much of a safety hazard Westfield had become.

The NTSB concluded that although the FMCSA's 18-month new entrant safety assurance program functioned as designed, it has inherent limitations that hinder its ability to predict which motor carriers will become unsafe operators. Therefore, the NTSB recommended that the FMCSA add another layer of oversight with a lower tolerance for unsafe carrier operations.

An abstract of the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations is available at https://go.usa.gov/x76Jk.  The full report is expected to be published in several weeks and will be available at https://go.usa.gov/x76tR.


To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).