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End in sight for lawsuit over Ashland dispatcher's death

The courtroom battle will soon be over for an Ashland widower who has asked for millions from the state because the Oregon DMV gave his wife’s killer a driver’s license — overlooking five prior drunken driving convictions.

William Greenstein, husband of Karen Greenstein, a 911 dispatcher killed on her way home from a late shift more than five years ago, says he’s geared up for an August trial date in his lawsuit seeking $11.7 million from Richard Webster Scott Jr., now serving a nearly 12-year prison sentence for manslaughter in the fatal wrong-way crash near Phoenix that occurred before dawn the morning of March 27, 2014, as well as the state for granting a driver’s license less than a year before the crash.

The state, however, is hoping a hearing set for July 15 will remove it from the lawsuit based on arguments that the Oregon Dept. of Driver and Motor Vehicle Services followed correct protocol when they granted Scott a driver’s license in April 2013, and that Scott would’ve driven drunk whether or not he had a valid license.

Greenstein’s civil suit is coming to a head after years of delays, including one from Scott, who tried to appeal his 2016 manslaughter conviction on grounds he was denied a fair trial in Jackson County based on media coverage of the crash, which claimed the life of a nearly 30-year Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon dispatcher and shocked the Southern Oregon community in 2014, particularly first-responders, earlier news reports show.

Scott, driving his mother’s 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan minivan collided head-on with Karen Greenstein’s 2006 Honda Civic coupe as he headed to California at his mother’s request to pick her up, according to earlier news reports and recent court documents. At the scene of the crash, Scott’s blood alcohol level was .20 BAC — two and a half times Oregon’s legal blood-alcohol limit of .08.

William Greenstein said he understands he’s “up against it” in facing the DMV, but he says he can’t ignore the fight based on what he described as major oversights in checking Scott’s driver history. Greenstein repeated an argument prosecutors made to the jury in the 2016 trial finding Scott guilty of first-degree manslaughter: Scott’s five prior drunken-driving convictions in the state of California.

“It’s just so blatant,” Greenstein. “All they had to do is follow their own rules.”

A recent court document filed by Greenstein’s lawyer argues that under Oregon law, Scott’s license should have been refused or later revoked as a habitual offender, but the DMV never imported Scott’s driving record into its database.

As recently as March 7, 2019, during a deposition with DMV Rule Specialist Elizabeth Wood, the DMV had “still never entered defendant Scott’s California driving record onto defendant Scott’s Oregon driving record,” the filing by Greenstein’s Salem based lawyer dated June 14 says.

The state argued in a June 13 filing that the DMV computer systems didn’t have the capability to obtain full driving records for individuals applying for Class C driver licenses, citing a “limit on how the DMV can spend highway funds combined with technology available at the time.”

Further, the DMV says that California “does not release complete driving records unless a legal document, like a subpoena, is attached specifically requesting the complete driving records,” according to the court document filed by the state of Oregon. “So, even if the Oregon DMV requested Mr. Scott’s complete driving records from the California DMV at the time Mr. Scott applied for an Oregon license, the California DMV would not have issued complete records without a legal document.”

Even if they’d obtained that information later, a DMV employee said during a deposition that they don’t have authority to order a revocation.

“That’s a court — the court is the only one convicting — court is the only one that has the authority to issue that lifetime revocation,” the DMV employee said.

William Greenstein argues that Scott’s driving record should have been easier to find, noting the ease crash investigators had accessing Scott’s history at the scene of the crash and that the DMV checks driver histories for commercial driver license applicants.

“The system is in place, they just choose not to use it for individuals,” Greenstein said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

An Ashland Police officer holds a photograph of Karen Greenstein at a ceremony Saturday honoring the former 99 dispatcher. File photo.
Medford Police Department Deputy Chief Brett Johnson speaks during Karen Greenstein's 2014 celebration of life. Mail Tribune file photo.