CONCORD, NH (AP) — A jury on Tuesday acquitted a commercial truck driver of causing the deaths of seven motorcyclists in a horrific head-on collision in northern New Hampshire that exposed fatal flaws in the handling of license revocations in all states.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 26, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, was found innocent of seven counts of manslaughter, seven counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless driving in connection with the June 21, 2019 crash in Randolph . Jailed since the crash, he appeared to wipe away tears as the verdict was read and briefly raised his index finger to the sky before leaving the courtroom.
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours after a two-week trial in which prosecutors argued that Zhukovsky, who had taken heroin, fentanyl and cocaine that day, went on the go- back several times before the head-on crash and told police he caused it. But a judge dismissed eight counts related to whether he was intoxicated, and his lawyers blamed lead biker Albert “Woody” Mazza, who was among those killed.
In closing statements Tuesday morning, both sides raised questions about who was more “everywhere”: the trucker accused of driving back and forth or the eyewitnesses accused of contradicting themselves.
“There is no doubt that this accident was a tragedy,” defense attorney Jay Duguay Duguay said. “But we are not here to decide whether or not this was a tragedy.”
Duguay said Mazza was drunk and not looking where he was going when he lost control of his motorcycle and slid past Zhukovskyy’s truck. He also accused prosecutors of ignoring that their own accident reconstruction unit contradicted their theory that Zhukovsky had crossed the lane in the opposite direction. An expert hired by the defense, meanwhile, testified that the accident happened on the center line of the road and would have happened even if the truck was in the middle of its lane because Mazza’s motorcycle was heading into this direction.
“From the start of this investigation, the state had made a decision about what happened, to hell with the evidence,” said Duguay, who also pointed to inconsistencies between testimonies or where witnesses contradicted each other.
“These witnesses were talking everywhere about what they remembered and what they claimed to have seen,” he said.
In particular, Duguay suggested that members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club “shaded” their accounts to protect Mazza and the club. Prosecutor Scott Chase acknowledged some inconsistencies, but asked jurors to remember the circumstances.
“People covered the dead, tried to save the barely alive, comforted the dying. It was not story time,” he said. “They were here to talk about some of the most unimaginable chaos, trauma, death and carnage we could even imagine three years later. They were talking about the hell that had opened.
Witnesses were consistent, he said, describing the truck as driving back and forth before the crash. This behavior continued “until he killed people,” Chase said.
“That’s what stopped him. It’s not that he made a responsible decision to start paying attention or doing the right thing,” he said. “The only thing that stopped him was an embankment after he went through a group of motorbikes.”
Chase called the attempt to blame Mazza a “fanciful story” and a “frivolous distraction”, while reminding jurors that Zhukovskyy, who did not testify at trial, told investigators “Obviously I caused the ‘accident”.
“It was perfectly clear from the start that he caused this crash,” Chase said. “That’s what he said, because that’s what happened.”
Zhukovskyy’s commercial driver’s license should have been revoked in Massachusetts at the time of the accident due to a drunk driving arrest in Connecticut about two months earlier.
Connecticut officials alerted the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, but Zhukovkskyy’s license was not suspended due to a backlog in out-of-state notifications regarding driving violations. In one review, federal investigators found similar backlog issues in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and at least six other jurisdictions.
The motorcyclists who died were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and were between the ages of 42 and 62. They were part of a larger group that had just left a motel along US Route 2 in Randolph.
Killed were Mazza, of Lee, New Hampshire; Edward and Jo-Ann Corr, a couple from Lakeville, Massachusetts; Michael Ferazzi, of Contoocook, New Hampshire; Desma Oakes, of Concord, New Hampshire; Daniel Pereira, of Riverside, Rhode Island; and Aaron Perry, of Farmington, New Hampshire.
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