By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
LANCASTER – New Hampshire State Trooper Derek Newcomb testified Friday that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy began to cry when he learned for the first time that seven motorcyclists were killed in the Route 2 crash in Randolph three years ago.
Friday marked the end of the first full week of Zhukovskyy’s trial for negligent homicide and manslaughter in the June 21, 2019, crash that killed seven members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, which is made up of former Marines and their families.
Zhukovskyy, 26, of Springfield, Mass. and originally from the Ukraine, is on trial in Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster for 23 felonies related to the cash.
According to testimony, Zhukovskyy got up the morning of the crash, used heroin, fentanyl and cocaine before starting work at 8 a.m., driving from Springfield, Mass. to Albany, N.Y. to pick up a car for the transportation company that employed him.
Zhukovskyy picked up the car in New York around 10:30 that morning and headed for the Berlin City Auto dealership in Gorham. After delivering the car around 5:30 p.m., Zhukovskyy started driving his truck and empty trailer on Route 2.
He told police that he looked away for a moment when he reached for a drink bottle, taking his eyes off the road just before the crash.
Prosecutors allege Zhukovskyy was still under the influence of the drugs he took that morning, a fact that Zhukovskyy’s defense team disputes. Newcomb testified he did not report any signs of intoxication when observing Zhukovskyy, though he noted something was off with his overall calm demeanor.
“The only thing I noted in my report was that after going through that traumatic experience, I would have expected more emotion,” Newcomb testified.
The trial started Monday with the jury going to the site of the crash on Route 2. Opening arguments started Tuesday with prosecutors laying out the case that drugs and Zhukovskyy’s history of serious drug abuse were reasons for the crash.
While Coos County Attorney John McCormick said that Zhukovskyy’s drug use and negligence behind the wheel led to the deadly wreck, defense attorney Steve Mirkin said it was the intoxicated lead motorcycle rider who caused the fatal crash and also died in the crash.
“Albert “Woody” Mazza, was responsible, he was riding on the centerline, and he lost control of his Harley. Drunk drivers cause accidents. Al Mazza was drunk, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy is not guilty of any of these charges,” Mirkin said.
McCormick said Zhukovskyy was impaired, seen weaving on the road before the accident, and not looking at the road when he ran into the riders.
“That’s what caused the accident, his reckless disregard for the rules of the road, and his drug use. ‘I caused the accident.’ These are his words,” McCormick told jurors. “When he was asked by the investigators what got us here, his one-word answer was ‘drugs.’”
Other motorcyclists testified on Tuesday to what they saw during the horrific crash. Valerie Ribiera was on the back of her husband’s motorcycle, and second in the group’s formation. She recalled the moment the impact happened.
“(Al) Woody (Mazza) was driving straight until he was exploded,” Ribiera said.
Mazza was the president of the club and was riding the lead bike on the day of the crash.
Zhukovskyy’s attorneys argue that Mazza was operating his Harley Davidson drunk and crossed the centerline and initiated the crash.
Mazza had a .135 blood alcohol content percentage, almost twice the legal limit, according to court records.
Witness Michael McEachern told jurors it was Zhukovskyy’s 60-foot rig that caused the carnage.
“I saw a big truck plowing through motorcycles like a bowling ball,” McEachern said.
Along with Mazza, the following people were killed: Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contoocook, Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord, Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington, Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Mass. in the crash.
Testimony will resume Monday, and the trial is expected to take at least another week before it goes to jurors. More than 100 witnesses are expected to testify in total.
Zhukovskyy has a history of drug use and a dangerous driving record. Weeks before the accident, Zhukovskyy overdosed on heroin while fishing with his nephews and had to be revived with NARCAN.
Zhukovskyy was also stopped in Connecticut in May of 2019 for operating under the influence. When he refused a blood test, he should have had his license suspended. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles’ failure to suspend Zhukovskyy’s license led to the resignation of the agency’s head, Erin Deveney.
Zhukovskyy worked for Massachusetts trucking company Westfield Transport. The company ended up paying out $1 million to the families of the crash victims before it went out of business.