Bar manager near motorcycle crash remembers visitors who never arrived — Mass. bikers
RANDOLPH, N.H. — It was the summer solstice, a pleasant evening for a cruise along a country highway, and members of the Jarheads MC, a motorcycle group of Marine veterans mostly from the Boston area, were heading to the American Legion hall in Gorham to catch the Friday evening raffle and kick off a weekend outing.
“We kept waiting for them to show up. They weren’t showing up and it wasn’t making sense,” said Michael Demers, the bar manager and a Navy veteran.
Then came a phone call from another post member. There was an accident, a bad one, involving a pickup truck and a group of motorcycles in Randolph, about 9 miles away.
“He said, ‘I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think the boys that you’re waiting on were in that crash,’ ” Demers remembers the post member telling him.
Sadly, they were. In what New Hampshire officials are calling one of the worst tragedies in the state, seven people died and three others were injured when a pickup truck hauling a trailer collided with riders of the Jarheads MC around 6:30 p.m., a half-hour before the raffle was due to start down the road.
Witnesses described a grisly and heart-rending scene along a wide stretch of tree-lined country highway with views of the mighty mountains of the Presidential Range. Officials have not released the names of the victims, though a GoFundMe page said they were five Jarheads MC riders and two supporters.
“Our club and the families are going to need help and we cannot do it alone. I am pleading with you all, please do what you can, and this money will go where it is needed to help ease some of the burden of these victims families,” read the appeal on the GoFundMe page. “Jarheads MC has always been about helping veterans and their families and sadly, today we are in need of that same support.”
The driver of the pickup truck was identified as Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, who works for a transportation company in Springfield, Mass. He survived the accident and did not require hospitalization, said New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General Jane Young.
The owner of the transportation company, Dartanyan Gasanov, said Saturday he has been trying to reach Zhukovskyy without success. “The driver doesn’t answer the phone calls,” he said.
Gasanov said he planned to speak with investigators on Monday, noting that he wasn’t aware of Zhukovskyy having driving issues in the past. Online records for the US Department of Transportation dating back 24 months show the company hasn’t had any crashes resulting in injuries or death during that period.
Two of the injured were taken to Androscoggin Valley Hospital and released, officials said. One was taken by rescue helicopter to Maine Medical Center and remained hospitalized late Saturday afternoon.
Officials have not identified a cause of the accident, nor has anyone been arrested. They are appealing to the public for video, photographs, or other information about the collision, but also predicted a lengthy investigation.
“We have more questions than answers at this moment,” Young said.
Several officers for Jarheads MC didn’t return messages Saturday or couldn’t be reached. The club was organized in Massachusetts in June 2016 and has chapters in New England, according to corporation records. Its mission is to raise money to help veterans and veterans’ organizations.
At the crash scene in Randolph, many drivers slowed or stopped to pay respects and leave small American flags honoring the victims. Skid marks, oil, shards of fiberglass, and torn earth were visible from the side of the road.
Demers was among those visiting the crash site. He said he was struck by how close the collision was to Mount Jefferson View, the motel where the motorcyclists were staying that boasts views of Mount Jefferson and the Presidential Range.
A makeshift memorial including US and Marine Corps flags had been set up on the property, Demers said.
“It’s amazing. If they had left 20 seconds earlier or 20 seconds later, they’d all still be here,” he said.
Bill Brown, 73, of Bethlehem, N.H., was among those who left an American flag at the crash scene. An Army infantryman in Vietnam and longtime motorcyclist, he recalled his combat days as he looked at a spot along the edge of the road where dried blood had mixed into the dirt.
Brown called the deaths “gruesome” and said his heart goes out to the families that “have got to live with this the rest of their lives.”
“This is northern New Hampshire,” he said. “Things like this don’t happen up here.”
One couple, who declined to give their names, said they were familiar with the motorcycle club and its charity work, saying many of its members were from the Boston area and several had served together in Beirut, Lebanon.
On Saturday afternoon, New Hampshire officials said at a news conference that the crash was among the worst tragedies the state has ever seen. About 10 motorcyclists, heading east on Route 2 in Randolph collided with the pickup truck heading in the opposite direction.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said another crash Friday night in Canterbury claimed the lives of two more people.
“Yesterday’s tragedy has clearly struck our state and our citizens in a very profound way,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators who plan to stay in New Hampshire for about five days. The NTSB’s investigation will focus on safety issues and examine factors such as road conditions, the vehicles involved in the crash, and the drivers, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the agency. The federal team also plans to help local officials who are trying to determine what happened, he said.
The motorcycling community offered support to the victims.
Cat Wilson, who lives on Cape Cod and helps Big Nick’s Ride, which memorializes Marine Corporal Nicholas G. Xiarhos, said Saturday she was in touch with members of Jarheads MC.
“Anybody who rides a motorcycle is part of a very tight-knit family and we support each other, and especially in times of need,” Wilson said. “This is certainly one of those times.”
Charlie St. Clair, the executive director of Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said news of the crash “staggered me, quite frankly.” The organization just concluded its signature motorcycle rally last weekend.
“This is without doubt the worst accident involving this many fatalities, this many motorcyclists, in my memory,” he said.
About 50 miles north of the crash site, motorcyclists are gathering this weekend in Columbia, N.H., for the Blessing of Bikes, a well-known event which is scheduled for Sunday.
The host of the blessing, Manchester Motorcycle Club Inc., was encouraging motorcyclists to gather Saturday evening for a moment of silence in honor of the crash victims.
“They fought for our country,” said Laura Cardinal, the club’s vice president. “They were out enjoying their life ... and that’s not fair.”
Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, the pickup truck driver’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this report.