State Reviews Driver Requirements Following Special-Needs Van Crash

On an August 2011 summer morning in Massachusetts, 12 special needs adults ranging in age from 20s to 60s were on their way to a day program for the disabled at The Price Center. Instead of arriving for employment or rehabilitation services at their anticipated destination, the passengers were transported to area hospitals with serious injuries following a car crash. According to police records, one person had to be extricated with the Jaws of Life and three people were admitted to intensive care for significant injuries.

At approximately nine o'clock in the morning, AART Transportation driver Addis Gabriel Woldeguiorguis slammed the special-needs van into the back of parked garbage truck. He claimed that his vision was impaired by bright sunlight streaming in through the windshield. He later admitted to having ingested two oxycodone pills for pain. Though his prescription was valid, upon searching the van, police found drug paraphernalia and a substance suspected to be cocaine.

The driver now faces a criminal charge of driving while under the influence of drugs, but some question whether he should have been hired to drive in the first place. "We don't contract directly with the transportation company,'' said Justin Sallaway, president of The Price Center president. " It worries me that the driver may not have been qualified for the job, and if he wasn't then it makes me upset.''

In 2005, Woldeguiorguis had been cited in New York for illegal possession of drugs. Further, he has a three-page traffic report from New York detailing prior violations dating back to the 1980s. However, none of this was ever considered because Massachusetts transportation regulators do not review out-of-state driving records.

As a result of the accident, the state office of Health and Human Services is reviewing its requirements for drivers contracted for transportation services. Currently, the state requirements include a review of driving records and a Criminal offender Record Information check within the Commonwealth. This loophole allows individuals with offending records from other states, such as Woldeguiorguis, to be approved for driving jobs in Massachusetts.

Some drivers believe the past should remain in the past. However, officials are now questioning whether it should be, especially when it comes to safety.