West Springfield, Mass. truck driver on trial for crash that killed 7 motorcyclists in New Hampshire
A prosecutor said Tuesday that a commercial truck driver charged in the deaths in 2019 of seven members of a Marine motorcycle club told police he caused the crash and wasn't looking, while his lawyer said it was the fault of the lead biker, who looked over his shoulder at his fellow riders moments before the collision.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 26, who had taken heroin, fentanyl and cocaine on June 21, 2019, “weaved back and forth repeatedly” before the head-on crash along U.S. Route 2 in Randolph, New Hampshire, prosecutor John McCormick said in his opening statement in Zhukovskyy's trial in state superior court in Lancaster.
He said multiple witnesses would testify that Zhukovskyy, who said he was reaching down to get a drink before the crash, was seen going over the center line.
McCormick said Zhukovskyy knew how dangerous heroin was because on May 5 that year, he had overdosed on the drug while on a fishing trip with his family and was revived by police, who administered an overdose reversal drug.
Zhukovskyy's lawyer, Steve Mirkin, said Zhukovskyy had taken the drugs on June 21, but he said there is no evidence that he was impaired at the time of the crash and that police did not make any observations in the hours afterward suggesting that he was impaired.
He said the president of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, Albert “Woody” Mazza, who led the pack of riders, came into contact with Zhukovskyy's truck first and caused the crash. Mirkin said Mazza had been drinking and his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit of .08 in New Hampshire.
He asked the jury to listen to witness accounts of what they saw and said a lot of the testimony would be inconsistent.
The first witnesses who testified were drivers who approached the crash scene from both directions. They described seeing dead bodies, including one that was under a wheel of a flatbed trailer towed by the truck, debris from the motorcycles and the truck on fire.
“It felt almost like coming upon a plane crash,” testified James Anderson. He also saw a brief confrontation with a motorcyclist and the person whom he believed to be the truck driver, yelling, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ before others came over to lead him away.
One driver who was traveling a distance behind the truck, with at least one car in between, saw it swerving and come close to the center line, but couldn't see if the truck touched or crossed the line. Corrine Jennings testified at one point she saw smoke and reached for her phone to call 911. As she was making her way around another car that had stopped, she saw the truck hitting motorcyclists.
Jurors visited the crash scene Monday and traced Zhukovskyy's route from an auto dealership in Gorham along the crash site, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.
The motorcyclists who died were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and ranged in age from 42 to 62. They were part of a larger group that had just left a motel along the highway and were headed to an American Legion Post in Gorham for a fundraiser.
They were traveling east when they collided with the westbound truck, which was towing the empty trailer.
Killed were Edward and Jo-Ann Corr, a couple from Lakeville, Massachusetts; Michael Ferazzi, of Contoocook, New Hampshire; Albert Mazza, of Lee, New Hampshire; Desma Oakes, of Concord, New Hampshire; Daniel Pereira, of Riverside, Rhode Island; and Aaron Perry, of Farmington, New Hampshire.
In addition to the deaths, several bikers were injured.
Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, driving under the influence and reckless conduct. He has been in jail since then.
Federal investigators said Zhukovskyy, who was returning from delivering vehicles for a Massachusetts transport company, regularly used drugs.
Zhukovskyy himself told police that he had used both heroin and cocaine that morning, but that he was “fine and OK to drive” later that evening, authorities said.
His lawyers have argued an independent analysis showed Mazza was drunk and was the one who hit the truck and caused the crash. Federal investigators found that some of the bikers and passengers were impaired by alcohol, but that it wasn’t the reason for the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board approved a report in December 2020 that concluded that Zhukovskyy’s impairment from the drugs was the “probable cause” for him crossing the center line on the highway and sparking the fiery crash.
Prosecutors said Zhukovskyy should never have been on the road in the first place. His commercial driving license should have been revoked in Massachusetts because of a drunken driving arrest in Connecticut about two months earlier, they said.