Monday November 19, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- The director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division has a bad driving record over the past 30 years that includes seven accidents, four speeding violations and one failure to wear a seat belt.

Sheila Burgess has 34 entries on her driving record since 1982, The Boston Globe reported Sunday (http://bo.st/Xn3vlH). The status of her driver’s license status was "nonrenewable" until Nov. 1 for failure to pay local excise taxes.

Burgess has been on leave since she suffered a head injury in a one-car crash in Milton in August. She told police she swerved off the road to avoid an oncoming vehicle and wasn’t cited.

Burgess declined to answer detailed questions about the accident and her $87,000-a-year job. She referred questions to the state public safety agency, which oversees traffic safety.

Brendan Ryan, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, told the Globe that he could not address why Burgess was hired as head of traffic safety when she has so many marks on her driving record. Ryan said she was hired, in part, based on a recommendation by U.S. Rep. James McGovern. Burgess is a former consultant to McGovern.

McGovern spokesman Michael Mershon said the congressman didn’t recommend Burgess for any specific position.

"He just said, ‘Here’s a good person for the Patrick administration to hire,"’ Mershon said.

He added that he didn’t know whether McGovern knew about Burgess’ driving record.


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Burgess had no background in public safety, transportation or government administration when she was appointed highway safety director in July 2007. She had worked for two decades in Democratic Party politics as a paid consultant and congressional aide, raising money and advising political candidates including Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.

As highway safety chief, her duties entail overseeing public campaigns on the dangers of speeding, texting while driving, driving while impaired and not buckling up.

In the August crash in Milton, state police said Burgess was driving a state vehicle during work hours when her car veered off the road and slammed into a rock outcropping at about 1:15 p.m. on a sunny day.

A state police spokesman said troopers didn’t ask Burgess whether she had been using her cellphone or was distracted in any other way. State police also didn’t ask her if she was wearing a seat belt. The spokesman said the accident was handled the same way as similar accidents.

Asked if Secretary of Public Safety Mary Elizabeth Heffernan was comfortable with Burgess’ driving record, a spokesman for Heffernan said she was comfortable knowing that Burgess had no driving issues between the date of her hiring and the Aug. 24 accident.