Did you hear the one about the state worker who messed up her state car because she "swerved to avoid hitting a chipmunk" and grazed a guard rail? The rodent apparently escaped uninjured.
Or how about the kid who needed to get the family car out of the garage to get to work but was blocked in by his state employee-dad's monstrous, state-issued Ford Expedition? Parents being away, the guy decided to move the beast himself. Unfortunately, he "misjudged the power" and crunched the huge SUV into the garage, busting up a headlight, bumper, corner of the hood and the front side panel. According to the state accident report, the son called his parents shortly afterward to apologize.
And then there was the idiot on an all-terrain vehicle who tried to pass a state environmental cop's truck on a narrow dirt road in rural Woodstock. The ATV jerk scraped up one side of the truck, then tried to get away and scraped up another part. "Driver was cited for multiple ATV violations," was the cop's deadpan final comment in describing the incident.
Those are just some of the details state employees supplied in the hundreds of accident reports filed each year to explain how taxpayer-owned vehicles get screwed up.
Connecticut taxpayers own a fleet of about 3,300 state cars, vans and trucks that are provided to various state agencies by the state Department of Administrative Services. Those are the vehicles regularly driven by many of Connecticut's more than 40,000 state employees, and those workers are all responsible for reporting any accident or damage that happens. (The state Department of Transportation and State Police have hundreds more trucks and cruisers of their own.)
A review by the Advocate of the hundreds of reports filed in the last full fiscal year (2010-11) shows the vast majority of those accidents involve routine fender-benders, scrapes in parking lots and garages, slips on ice and other mundane mishaps.
But there's also a darker side. Connecticut state government lacks any formal system for tracking and monitoring the number and type of accidents involving state vehicles and drivers. That means there's no way to know if a particular agency or office has a good or bad driving record, or if state accident rates are getting better or worse.
A Boston Herald review of Massachusetts state vehicle accidents found state drivers caused $2.1 million in damage to state cars, vans and trucks over the past three years. At least 14 state workers were involved in multiple crashes. The story prompted Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to call for a new policy designed to discipline state workers responsible for vehicle accidents.
Last November, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray smashed up his state car after apparently dozing off at the wheel. He was fined $550 for the accident and for the finding that he had been driving at 108 mph at one point.
"We deal with accidents on a case-by-case basis," says Jeffrey Beckham, spokesman for Connecticut's Department of Administrative Services (DAS). "If there is a particular problem with an agency or an individual and their driving history, we would likewise deal with it on a case-by-case basis."
In fact, the DAS Office of Fleet Operations, which is responsible for maintaining the state's 3,300 vehicles, apparently doesn't even bother to keep the accident reports filed by state employees. Those are all shipped over to the state Comptroller's Office, which provided copies of the reports that were reviewed for this story.
Some agencies clearly do seem to have more vehicle damage problems than others.
In 2010-11, for example, more than a dozen taxpayer-purchased vehicles assigned to the state Department of Children and Families office in Bridgeport suffered "smashed doors," mangled rear bumpers, scrapes, broken trunks, lights, mirrors and other accident-related damage.
But the workers driving those cars failed to report how or when the damage occurred, something required by the state. It's also unclear what action — if any — was taken to discipline those less-than-forthcoming employees.
In another case, a state official who was forced out of his job under unusual circumstances apparently left without explaining how his state-issued car got banged up. According to a document filed by another employee, the official's car suffered damage in multiple areas that was "not reported at the time of the incidents."
The official involved was Joseph F. Marie, who resigned as state transportation commissioner in 2010. Marie was basically forced out by then-Gov.M. Jodi Rellbecause of unspecified allegations of inappropriate behavior on Marie's part, allegations that Marie denied and that were never fully investigated.
Apparently, state officials weren't about to raise a fuss about all those dents in his state car once he was gone. Beckham says the information he has is that repairs to Marie's state car totaled $1,280.
Beckham says DAS doesn't keep overall records of what accident repairs involving state vehicles are costing taxpayers. He says repairs and maintenance on state cars and trucks in the DAS fleet are figured into the administrative costs per vehicle that agencies pay in monthly "rental rates" for using cars and trucks.
DAS does "charge agencies extra for extraordinary problems caused to the vehicle," says Beckham, "but those would be billed to the agency separately and paid out of their budgets." He says the state doesn't keep a yearly total of what those repairs for "extraordinary problems" cost taxpayers.
And then there was the vanishing vehicle that had been parked at the state Department of Developmental Services car pool in East Hartford. It seems to have simply vanished one day in mid-May 2011. All the state workers who had driven the car recently denied losing or taking the keys.
"I am not sure when the vehicle and keys went missing," was the comment from a state official who discovered the car was gone.
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