Trucker acquitted in deadly crash asks for license back, but state says he contributed to accident

A commercial truck driver who was acquitted of causing the 2019 deaths of seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire has testified on his request to reinstate his suspended driver's license

Kathy McCormack
Wednesday 08 May 2024 22:43 BST
Motorcycles Crash Ukrainian Driver
Motorcycles Crash Ukrainian Driver

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A commercial truck driver who was acquitted of causing the deaths of seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire testified at a hearing Wednesday on his request to reinstate his suspended license, while a lawyer for the state said he still played a role in the 2019 crash.

A jury in 2022 found Volodymyr Zhukovskyy not guilty of multiple manslaughter and negligent homicide counts stemming from the collision in Randolph that killed seven members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, an organization of Marine Corps veterans and their spouses in New England.

Zhukovskyy, who came to the U.S. as a child from Ukraine and had permanent residency status, had his Massachusetts license automatically suspended in New Hampshire after his arrest following the June 21, 2019, crash.

Based on his interviews with police at the time, “I thought I was the one that caused the accident,” Zhukovskyy, 28, testified at a four-hour administrative hearing in Concord in which he appeared via video. “I was like in a bubble with all the pressure.”

Prosecutors argued that Zhukovskyy — who had taken heroin, fentanyl and cocaine the day of the crash — repeatedly swerved back and forth before the collision and told police he caused it. But a judge dismissed eight impairment charges and his attorneys said the lead biker was drunk and not looking where he was going when he lost control of his motorcycle and slid in front of Zhukovskyy’s truck, which was pulling an empty flatbed trailer.

Zhukovskyy’s trial lawyers also said there was no evidence he was impaired at the time of the crash and that police did not make any observations in the hours afterward suggesting he was.

Restoration of Zhukovskky’s license would depend on whether hearings officer Ryan McFarland decides Zhukovskyy drove “in an unlawful and reckless manner" that “materially contributed” to the accident, according to state law. McFarland took the case under advisement after the hearing. If he finds in favor of the state, Zhukovskyy’s license could remain suspended for up to seven years.

One former Jarheads member injured in the crash spoke out against restoring the license.

“You're all in jeopardy of this guy driving again,” said Manny Ribeiro, speaking with reporters after Wednesday's hearing. “I know what happened that day. I was there.”

The manslaughter acquittal at the time drew strong comments from Gov. Chris Sununu, who said the seven bikers “did not receive justice,” and from Attorney General John Formella, who said he believed the state proved its case.

Zhukovskyy said at Wednesday's hearing he was driving around a crest on an east-west highway, saw a motorcycle coming in his direction, and applied his brakes.

“He responded in seconds,” his attorney Earle Wingate III, said. “He did not cause the crash.”

But David Hilts, an attorney for the state Department of Safety, challenged that account, based on expert reports. He said descriptions of where the tires were at the time showed Zhukovskyy didn't see the motorcycle in advance.

“The impact happened. He jams on his breaks,” Hilts said.

Hilts questioned Zhukovskyy extensively about his drug use based on the police interviews. The attorney said in his closing statement that Zhukovskyy did everything possible to not answer his questions about drug use and impairment.

Hilts also brought up prior accidents Zhukovskyy was involved in, including one 18 days before the Randolph crash. He said both Zhukovskyy and the lead biker, Albert “Woody” Mazza Jr., materially contributed to the crash. Mazza, one of the seven who died, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.135%, well above the legal limit of 0.08%, according to his autopsy report.

At the time, Zhukovskyy’s license should have been revoked because he had been arrested in Connecticut on a drunken driving charge in May 2019. Connecticut officials alerted the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, but Zhukovskyy’s license wasn’t suspended due to a backlog of out-of-state notifications about driving offenses. The Connecticut case is pending.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Zhukovskyy after the 2022 verdict, citing previous convictions of drug possession, driving with a suspended license, furnishing false information and larceny. Zhukovskyy was taken from a New Hampshire county jail to a federal detention facility.

Zhukovskyy’s immigration attorney requested asylum for his client. In February 2023, a judge ordered Zhukovskyy’s deportation. But it’s unclear under how he could be sent to a country at war with Russia. The U.S. has paused repatriation flights to Ukraine and authorized Temporary Protected Status for qualified Ukrainians.

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