In June, 2019, trucker Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was charged with seven counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of seven members of the Jarhead Motorcycle Club in New Hampshire. The group was out riding when it was struck by an oncoming pickup truck. The 2016 Dodge 2500 that Zhukovskyy was driving reportedly crossed the center line on Route 2, in Randolph, New Hampshire, and smashed directly into the riders head-on. Seven were killed, and three more were critically injured.
In the weeks and months following the deadly crash, journalists discovered a seemingly endless stream of disturbing factors that contributed to this tragedy. For one thing, Zhukovskyy had a documented history of DUIs, traffic, and drug violations across six states. Later on in 2019, a report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration revealed that Zhukovskyy had tested positive for an unnamed drug that made him “incapable of safe operation” of a vehicle at the time of the crash.
If you’re wondering what’s happened since late 2019, so were we. After delays and unforeseen difficulties due to the global pandemic took up much of 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officially released its report on the deadly crash in December, 2020. It said that drug impairment was the probable cause of Zhukovskyy’s crash. Reporting from local news station WCAX states that “he had told police he regularly used heroin and cocaine, including the morning of the crash.”
However, the NTSB’s report had more blame to go around for the incident. It pointed out that New Hampshire lacked appropriate procedures to track suspensions and/or infractions in out-of-state drivers. It also called out Zhukovskyy’s employer, Westfield Transport (which shut its doors in the wake of the crash) for “egregious noncompliance with federal motor carrier safety regulations.” Additionally, the NTSB urged New Hampshire to require the use of motorcycle helmets by law.
While we’re all for wearing helmets, it’s not clear how much good they’ll do when a vehicle plows into your bike head-on. The NTSB likely just saw an opportunity to make its point and took it, but that choice, quite frankly, seems painfully tone-deaf in the wake of the seven rider deaths and three people with critical injuries that were sustained in that crash.
In February, 2021, the two owners of Westfield Transport were indicted on federal charges for falsifying driving logs in order to conceal violations of federal safety requirements. The owners, who are also brothers, have pled not guilty to those charges and currently await trial.
There’s also a dispute about whether Zhukovskyy crossed the center line in the first place. The December NTSB report says that both his truck and trailer did cross that line, while Zhukovskyy’s defense attorneys argue that an independent state expert says the crash happened directly on the center line.
As a result, New Hampshire prosecutors filed new indictments against Zhukovskyy that no longer allege that he drove his truck over the center line. Like the previous charges, Zhukovskyy pleaded not guilty to all subsequent charges stemming from these new indictments. He remains in jail awaiting trial, where he faces seven counts of manslaughter, seven counts of negligent homicide, and additional charges of reckless conduct and driving while intoxicated. His trial is currently scheduled for November 29, 2021, although his lawyers are working to move that date forward.