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DMV license procedures need scrutiny

Bill Greenstein’s lawsuit alleging the state of Oregon wrongly issued a driver’s license to the repeat drunk driver who killed his wife is now settled. What’s not settled is whether Oregon is still issuing licenses without obtaining the driving records of out-of-state applicants, five years after the horrific crash that took Karen Greenstein’s life.

Karen Greenstein was on her way home from a late shift as an emergency dispatcher when a man driving the wrong way on Interstate 5 slammed into the driver’s side of her car at 3 a.m. March 27, 2014, near Phoenix. Richard Webster Scott Jr.’s blood alcohol level was two and a half to three times the legal limit in the hours after the crash. In 2016, a jury sentenced Scott to nearly 12 years in prison.

In his lawsuit, Bill Greenstein argued the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services office failed to check Scott’s driving record in California before issuing him a license. If it had done so, the suit argued, the DMV would have learned that Scott had five convictions for driving under the influence of intoxicants, and his license was suspended and revoked.

In its response to the lawsuit, the state said its computer systems were not able to obtain full driving records for individuals applying for regular licenses, and California won’t release that information without a legal document such as a subpoena. Bill Greenstein argued that’s not true, and furthermore, Oregon law bars the DMV from issuing a license to anyone with a suspended or revoked license.

DMV spokesman David House said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, even after it was settled, but he confirmed that department policy is not to issue a license until the applicant resolves any suspension or revocation in another state. House also said the multi-state system the DMV uses, called the Problem Driver Pointer System, is less extensive than the system used for commercial driver’s licenses, but it does list drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked.

Without an official comment from the DMV — which is typical when a lawsuit is involved — it’s impossible to say with certainty whether the state knew Scott was ineligible for a license and issued one anyway. But the state did settle the case for $500,000 — the maximum damages allowed by law. Draw your own conclusions.

What is certain is that no one with five DUII convictions should be issued a license to drive in this state or any other.

The state’s assertion in the lawsuit that Scott would have driven anyway was a lame excuse. That makes about as much sense as saying perpetrators of mass shootings will get guns one way or another, so there is no point in expanding background checks.

If the DMV has not taken steps to improve its system of checking out-of-state driving records in the five years since Karen Greenstein’s tragic death, there can be no excuse.