CONCORD, NH (AP) — A jury on Tuesday acquitted a commercial truck driver of causing the death of seven bikers in a horrible frontal collision in northern New Hampshire that exposed fatal flaws in the handling of license revocations in every state.
Lakeville residents Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, both 58, were among those killed.
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 took heroin, fentanyl and cocaine earlier on the day of the accident – swerved several times before the collision and told police he caused it. But a judge dismissed eight counts related to his drunkenness, and his attorneys blamed lead biker Albert “Woody” Mazza Jr., saying he was drunk and not looking where he was going when he lost control of his motorcycle and slid past Zhukovskyy’s truck.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Our trial 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.
Zhukovsky’s family, some of whom attended 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 expresses its 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’s feelings.” .
Zhukovskyy, who was born in Ukraine, was still in jail late Tuesday afternoon. It is unclear when he might be released. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued him a detention officer after the accident and he was executed following the verdict, said Coos County Department of Corrections Superintendent Ben Champagne. .
ICE said in a statement that Zhukovskyy had received a summons to appear before an immigration judge and would remain in ICE custody pending the outcome of that appearance. He did not specify where he is being held.
The seven motorcyclists killed were members of the 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 with it. It’s amazing,” Mazza said. He described his son as a “good man” who devoted much of his time to charity and said he was wrong to blame him.
“It doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “There are seven people dead. Seven families are involved. It’s strange that he didn’t understand anything.
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.
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.
“These witnesses were talking all over what they remembered and what they claimed to have seen,” defense attorney Jay Duguay said.
Duguay 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.
In particular, Duguay suggested that bikers “shade” 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 have 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 Motor Vehicle Registry, but Zhukovskyy’s license was not suspended due to a backlog of out-of-state notifications regarding traffic violations. In one review, federal investigators found similar backlog issues in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and at least six other jurisdictions.
—Holly Ramer, Associated Press. AP writers Michael Casey and Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.