Truck driver was on drugs, reaching for drink at time of fatal New Hampshire crash, report says
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was high on drugs and said he was reaching for a drink on the passenger side of his 2016 Dodge pickup truck when the vehicle crossed the highway’s yellow center line and crashed into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire in late June, according to a federal inspection report obtained by the Globe.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration report provides the most detailed account to date of the fiery collision that killed seven, injured three others, and led to a still-widening scandal at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, which failed to revoke the 23-year-old’s commercial driver’s license prior to the crash. The federal agency, which oversees the trucking industry, is the first investigatory body to raise allegations that Zhukovskyy was intoxicated at the time of the tragedy.
Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, tested positive after the June 21 collision for an unspecified drug that rendered him incapable of driving safely, federal regulators found. The report does not specify the drug beyond saying it was a narcotic or amphetamine.
The report also includes Zhukovskyy’s admission that he was reaching for a beverage at the time of the crash, as well as a detailed description of the destruction the collision inflicted on the pickup truck and trailer that Zhukovskyy was operating for Westfield Transport Inc. of West Springfield.
Albert Mazza Sr., whose son, Albert Mazza Jr., 59, was killed in the crash, faulted Massachusetts officials for failing to pull Zhukovskyy’s driver’s license.
“My son would probably be alive today if they did their job,” said the elder Mazza, a former Marine who bought his son his first motorcycle and taught him how to ride it.
Mazza’s daughter, Brittany, said she was bracing for allegations of impaired driving by Zhukovskyy.
“I’m not surprised by this. We were just kind of waiting for it to happen,” she said.
An inspector found 24 violations of federal motor carrier safety regulations involving Zhukovskyy and the vehicle, according to the report. The report linked at least 14 of the violations — such as flat tires, faulty brakes, and inoperable lights — to damage that the truck and trailer may have sustained during the collision. It’s unclear if any of the alleged deficiencies existed before the crash.
Regulators also cited Zhukovskyy for inattentive driving, a lane violation, driving under the influence, and failing to maintain a log book of his travels.
A spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration declined to comment, saying the agency doesn’t discuss crashes publicly. The Globe obtained the inspection report through a public records request.
“This kid should have never been operating a commercial motor vehicle. There’s no question in my mind,” said attorney John Haymond, who represents Joshua Morin, a Marine veteran from Dalton who was injured in the collision.
A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker declined to comment and referred questions to the Department of Transportation, which oversees the Registry.
“The RMV’s failures are totally unacceptable and the administration hopes that the families who lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy can begin to find some solace as justice is sought in this case,” said Patrick Marvin, a MassDOT spokesman.
Zhukovskyy, who has a lengthy record of traffic and impairment charges, walked away from the crash uninjured. He was arrested three days later and has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of negligent homicide.
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office, National Transportation Safety Board, New Hampshire State Police, and Coos County, N.H., prosecutors are investigating.
Deputy Attorney General Jane Young declined to comment on the federal report, citing the ongoing investigation and prosecution. Lawyers for Zhukovskyy didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman, said the agency is conducting its own investigation and doesn’t comment on reports prepared by outside organizations.
Zhukovskyy was driving for Westfield Transport, which had hired him three days earlier. The company was on a shipping assignment for Berlin City Ford Lincoln in Gorham, N.H., at the time of the crash, the report said.
The victims were in New Hampshire for an event organized by the Jarheads Motorcycle Club , established by Marine veterans.
Days after the crash, Massachusetts officials acknowledged that Zhukovskyy should have been stripped of his commercial license weeks earlier after he refused to take a chemical sobriety test on May 11 in East Windsor, Conn. Police there arrested him for allegedly operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Connecticut’s registry alerted Massachusetts of the refusal via electronic and paper mail notifications.
Zhukovskyy’s troubled driving history dates back to April 2012 when at age 16 he was cited for a crash in West Springfield. At the time, Zhukovskyy had yet to obtain a learner’s permit.
Since then, he has accumulated driving violations and arrests in at least six states, records show. He spent three months in a residential rehabilitation program in Bristol, Pa., to address his struggles with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, according to the former director of the program.
As Massachusetts officials looked into their failure to suspend Zhukovskyy’s license, they learned the Registry had neglected for years to process notifications from other states about traffic violations by local drivers and didn’t have a system of its own for sending such alerts.
The Registry’s lapse prompted Erin Deveney, the agency’s registrar, to resign in late June.
At an oversight hearing Tuesday, state lawmakers learned that Registry officials had been warned in March that nearly 13,000 alerts from other states about law-breaking drivers were piling up within a division known as the Merit Rating Board.
Reached Wednesday evening, the owner of Westfield Transport said he wasn’t aware that Zhukovskyy had been charged in Connecticut with operating under the influence in May because it wasn’t listed on his driving history.
Dartanyan Gasanov said he knew Zhukovskyy had been arrested for drunken driving in 2013 but let him work for Westfield Transport anyway.
“We are cooperating,” Gasanov said.
He said he hasn’t seen the federal inspection report.
“It’s really hard to talk about this,” he said. “It’s very hard to sleep at night.”
Gasanov also owns East Transport LLC, a trucking business in West Springfield with one truck and one driver, federal records show. The company appears to still be in business.
Following the fatal New Hampshire crash, a federal inspector spent more than two hours examining the wreckage, the report said.
A fire erupted after the collision, damaging the brakes on the pickup truck and trailer, and burning battery cables and melting headlamps, turn signals, and tires, the report said.
The suspension systems on the truck and trailer were also affected.
On June 26, five more inspections were conducted on commercial vehicles operated by Westfield Transport, federal records show.
Three inspections occurred on Western Avenue in West Springfield, and two others were conducted in Springfield. An inspector cited one driver for not having a medical certificate. During a different inspection, a vehicle with brake problems was ordered to be taken out of service, records show.
Mazza’s father said he is trying to come to terms with his son’s death.
“Nothing’s going to bring my son back,” he said. “I got a broken heart. There’s no doubt about it.”