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Trial in Randolph crash that killed seven motorcyclists gets underway

Motorcycles Crash - N.H. trial. Lancaster, New Hampshire. AP / Pool photo.
Steven Senne/AP
Pool AP
Volodymr Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, Mass., center right, charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of seven motorcycle club members in a 2019 crash, speaks with defense attorney Steve Mirkin, left, at Coos County Superior Court, in Lancaster, N.H., Monday, July 25, 2022, before a scheduled visit to the crash scene. Zhukovskyy has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, reckless conduct and driving under the influence in the June 21, 2019, crash. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool)

Jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of a commercial truck driver accused of negligent homicide for his role in a 2019 crash in the North Country town of Randolph that killed seven motorcyclists.

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy is accused of colliding with members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, which is made up of Marine Corps members and their families, while operating a 2016 Dodge Ram 2500 that was towing a 40-foot empty car carrier. Zhukovskyy admitted to police that he had consumed heroin and cocaine the morning of the crash, approximately 11 hours earlier, and stated that he was reaching for a drink in the cab of his truck when he collided with the bikers.

Prosecutors told jurors Tuesday morning that Zhukovskyy was “reckless, negligent and deadly” the evening of the crash.

Zhukovskyy “came across the yellow line and smashed through their group like a wrecking ball,” said Coos County Attorney John McCormick.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, worked to lay out a different picture of the crash, repeatedly mentioning during opening arguments that the blood-alcohol level of Albert “Woody” Mazza, the lead motorcycle rider in the group, was over the legal limit, and that he sparked the collision by swerving into the truck.

“It’s a tragedy, no doubt about that,” attorney Steve Mirkin told jurors. But he added Mazza was responsible. “Drunk drivers kill. Al Mazza was drunk, and Vlad Zhukovskyy is not guilty of any of these charges.”

The defendant sat in the courtroom wearing a dark suit, thick-framed glasses and a mask. He has been held in preventative detention since shortly following the crash, having been denied bail on multiple occasions, including an appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. He is a Ukranian national who resided in West Springfield, Mass., before the crash, where he was employed by a towing company. The evening of the crash, he was returning from a car dealership in Berlin after delivering a vehicle.

Family and supporters of the motorcyclists filled the first two rows of the courtroom’s gallery Tuesday, while Zhukovskyy’s family smiled and waved to him as he was brought into the courtroom.

Both the state and the defense have hired independent crash reconstruction experts, with extensive testimony from both expected during the trial as the precise location of impact – either on the double-yellow center line, or on the eastbound side of the road – remains in dispute.

The defense is also disputing a toxicology report that prosecutors intend to introduce that showed detectable levels of a byproduct of heroin in Zhukovskyy’s blood, alleging the crime lab manually overrode its own testing equipment.

Tuesday afternoon, witnesses, including those driving immediately behind Zhukovskyy or the bikers, testified about what they saw before and after the incident. That included statements that Zhukovskyy was driving erratically in the moments before the crash, including swerving and correcting his vehicle to stay in his lane.

One witness described the scene of the collision as akin to a plane crash, with motorcycle parts and bodies spread across more than 200 feet of roadway.

Shortly after the June 2019 crash, media reports emerged detailing that Zhukovskyy’s license was supposed to be suspended following a recent DUI arrest in Connecticut, but the state of Massachusetts failed to process the paperwork. The breakdown in communication and timely record processing sparked an investigation across the region that found state motor vehicle agencies, including in New Hampshire, routinely failed to process out-of-state notifications including license suspensions on a timely basis.

The trial could last four weeks, with prosecutors submitting a witness list containing more than 100 names. On Monday, the jurors – 12 Coos County residents and six alternates – viewed the site of the crash.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.