A West Springfield truck driver accused of killing seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire nearly two years ago pleaded not guilty Friday to charges filed in a series of new indictments in the fatal crash.
Prosecutors in New Hampshire recently filed new indictments that were stripped of previous allegations that 25-year-old Volodymyr Zhukovskyy caused the collision by driving his truck across the center line of a rural highway.
Attorneys for Zhukovskyy have disputed New Hampshire State Police claims that he had entered the oncoming lane of traffic at the time of the crash. Attorneys pointed to an independent state expert who concluded the initial contact between the truck and the procession of motorcycles occurred directly over the center line.
Zhukovskyy was high on cocaine and heroin, which he believed had been laced with fentanyl, according to investigators. He faces seven counts of manslaughter, seven counts of negligent homicide, plus charges of reckless conduct, and driving while intoxicated.
Zhukovskyy’s trial has been scheduled for Nov. 29, though defense lawyers are seeking an earlier date. He appeared Fridayin Coos County Superior Court via videoconference and wearing orange jail clothes.
Investigators from different agencies have offered varying views on the initial moments of the crash on June 21, 2019. In December, the National Transportation Safety Board adopted a report that found Zhukovskyy’s truck and trailer did in fact cross the center line, colliding with the lead motorcycle in a pack, driven by Albert Mazza Jr., the leader of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club.
Mazza was among the seven people killed.
Zhukovskyy was driving for Westfield Transport at the time of the crash. In February, the leaders of the now-closed transport company, Dunyadar Gasanov, 36, and his brother, Dartanyan Gasanov, 35, were indicted on charges that they falsified records in an effort to conceal violations of federal safety rules. The brothers have pleaded not guilty.
The fatal crash exposed widespread failures by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to track troubled drivers like Zhukovskyy, who had a lengthy history of violations and arrests. The state overhauled its systems for handling alerts about law-breaking drivers after it was revealed that the Registry had failed to act on warnings from Connecticut to suspend Zhukovskyy’s license shortly before the crash.
Last August, the Globe published an investigation that exposed how government negligence has for decades allowed drivers with menacing traffic records to remain on the road nationwide. The report also cited loopholes rampant in the trucking industry’s regulatory system.