CONCORD, NH (AP) — A jury on Tuesday acquitted a commercial truck driver of causing the death of seven motorcyclists in a terrible head-on collision in northern New Hampshire, which uncovered serious deficiencies in the processing of license revocations in the states.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 26, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has been found not guilty to seven counts of manslaughter, seven counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of reckless conduct related to the June 21, 2019 Randolph crash. Detained since the crash, he appeared to wipe away tears as the verdict was read, briefly raising his index finger to the sky before exiting the courtroom.
The jury deliberated less than three hours after a two-week trial in which prosecutors argued that Zhukovskyy — who took heroin, fentanyl and cocaine earlier on the day of the crash – repeatedly back and forth before the collision, telling police he caused it. But a judge dismissed eight charges related to his disability, and his attorneys blamed leading biker Albert “Woody” Mazza Jr., saying He was drunk and not paying attention to where he was going when he lost control of his motorcycle and skidded in front of Zhukovsky’s truck.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Our litigation team did an excellent job and we firmly believe the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella said in a statement.
Zhukovskyy’s family, some of whom were present at the trial, said in a statement that they were grateful to God, the court and the defense attorneys for an “honest and fair trial”.
“Our family sends our deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by this tragedy,” the family said, describing him as a “very honest and kind man. He would never have done anything to hurt anyone.”
Ukrainian-born Zhukovskyy remained detained late Tuesday afternoon. It is unclear when he will be released. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an immigration officer against him after the crash, who was executed after the verdict, said Ben Champagne, the superintendent of the Coos County Corrections Department.
ICE said in a statement that Zhukovskyy has received a summons to appear before an immigration judge and will remain in ICE custody pending the outcome of that appearance. It was not said where he was being held.
All seven motorcyclists killed were members of Jarheads Motorcycle Club. After the verdict, a member of the Marine group, reached via Facebook, declined to comment. Mazza’s father, also named Albert, said he was stunned.
“Kill seven people and he gets away. It’s unbelievable,” said Mazza. He described his son as a “good man” who devoted much of his time to charity and said it was wrong to blame him.
“It doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Seven people are dead. Seven families are affected. It’s strange that he didn’t get anything.”
The motorcyclists who died were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and were between 42 and 62 years old. They were part of a larger group that had just left a motel on 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.
In closing statements Tuesday morning, both sides questioned who was more “everywhere”: the trucker accused of skidding across the street or the eyewitnesses accused of contradicting one another.
“These witnesses were all over what they remembered and what they allegedly saw,” Defense Attorney Jay Duguay said.
Duguay also accused prosecutors of ignoring that their own accident reconstruction unit contradicted their theory that Zhukovskyy had crossed into the oncoming lane. A defense expert, meanwhile, testified that the accident occurred on the center line of the road and would have occurred even if the truck had been in the center of its lane because Mazza’s motorcycle was traveling in that direction.
“From the beginning of this investigation, the state had decided what happened, evidence be damned,” said Duguay, who also highlighted discrepancies between testimonies or witnesses who contradicted each other.
Specifically, Duguay suggested that the bikers “shadow” their accounts to protect Mazza and the club. Prosecutor Scott Chase admitted some inconsistencies but asked the jury to recall the circumstances.
“People covered the dead, tried to save the barely alive, and comforted the dying. That wasn’t storytime,” he said. “They were up here talking about the most unimaginable chaos, trauma, death and carnage that we can imagine three years later. They talked about all hell breaking loose.”
Witnesses were consistent, he argued, describing the truck as snaking back and forth before the accident. This behavior continued “until he killed people,” Chase said.
“That stopped him. It’s not like he made a responsible choice to pay attention or do the right thing,” he said. “The only thing that stopped him was an embankment after he drove through a group of bikes.”
Chase called the attempt to blame Mazza a “fanciful story” and a “frivolous distraction,” while reminding jurors that Zhukovskyy, who did not testify in court, told investigators, “Apparently I caused the crash. “
“He was crystal 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 because he had been arrested for drunk driving in Connecticut about two months earlier.
Connecticut officials alerted the Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Registry, but Zhukovskyy’s license was not suspended due to a backlog of extra-state driving offense notifications. In a review, federal investigators found similar backlog issues in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and at least six other jurisdictions.
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