A Massachusetts man with a troubled driving history dating back to his teen years was arrested and charged Monday with killing seven people on motorcycles in a violent crash in New Hampshire last week.
At the time of the crash, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, was free on $2,500 bond in a pending drunken driving case in Connecticut, court records show.
He’d also been involved in two at-fault accidents, including one that also involved drunken driving, according to motor vehicle records. And he pleaded guilty to drug possession in 2018, court records say.
Zhukovskyy had begun working for Westfield Transport Inc., a West Springfield trucking company, three days before the crash, according to the company’s owner, Dartanyan Gasanov. Zhukovskyy had gotten his commercial driving license less than a year ago, according to Zhukovskyy’s brother-in-law.
Massachusetts State Police troopers were at Gasanov’s home for about an hour Monday afternoon talking to three men. Gasanov was emotional as the troopers left.
State Police said the agency’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, which enforces motor carrier laws, was assisting New Hampshire authorities and visited the company as part of the investigation.
“Our condolences to the families, our prayers are with the families,” Gasanov said. “We’re fully cooperating with the agencies, we’ll fully give them everything we have.”
Zhukovskyy’s brother-in-law, who gave his name only as Denis K., said Monday by phone that his relative “looked like a person who went through hell” after the crash. He said Zhukovskyy locked himself in his room and didn’t eat when he returned home from the horrific scene in New Hampshire.
“The only person he talked to was his mom and his dad,” said Denis, who lives with Zhukovskyy. “They just prayed together. His mom was trying to calm him down.”
Zhukovskyy was arrested Monday morning at the two-family West Springfield home, where he lives with his parents. Later in the day he appeared in court in Springfield, wearing a white T-shirt and black gym shorts. He kept his head down. He was then transported to New Hampshire, where he will appear in the Coos County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.
During his arrest Monday morning, state troopers found “wax packets containing a residue suspected of being heroin,” said David Procopio, spokesman for Massachusetts State Police, via e-mail. The substance was not confirmed to be heroin and he was not charged with possession.
His lawyer in Massachusetts, Donald Frank, stressed that Zhukovskyy was innocent until proven guilty, despite the tragic circumstances.
“He’s only 23 years old. He’s a high school graduate. He’s on a soccer team,” Frank said. He added that Zhukovskyy had initially been allowed to leave New Hampshire by authorities.
The charges, though welcomed by the victims’ families, did little to assuage their grief. A number of those who were killed were members of the motorcycle club Jarheads MC, a close-knit group of Marine Corps veterans and friends from across New England. Their family members remained in shock.
“My son is dead. My son is dead,” said Albert Mazza Sr., 82, his voice shaking in a phone interview from North Carolina.
His son, Albert Mazza, 59, was one of the motorcycle riders driving along Route 2 in Randolph, N.H., on Friday evening, when Zhukovskyy collided with them in a pickup truck with a massive trailer attached to the back. After the collision, his truck burst into flames on the side of the two-lane highway.
Mazza’s uncle, Joseph Mazza, 87, of Haverhill, said he hopes to learn more about what caused the crash and the filing of charges is “a start.”
“It’s a mystery, and needless to say it’s very upsetting,” he said in a phone interview.
“If he’s guilty, he has to be punished so he’s not on the street anymore,” Mazza said of Zhukovskyy. “We can’t let this happen again.”
Zhukovskyy’s checkered driving record began at age 16, when, according to court records, police in West Springfield found him and another man in a car crashed into heavy brush. Zhukovskyy was charged with driving without a license, speeding, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
He was arrested in June 2013 for drunken driving in Westfield, his record says. He was sentenced in that case to a year of probation, and his license was suspended for 210 days, the Westfield News reported. There were no fatalities in that case.
Zhukovskyy was also cited for a lane infraction in February. His second drunken driving arrest, in May of this year, occurred in East Windsor, Conn., and was still pending at the time of the New Hampshire crash, according to legal filings. His next hearing in that case was scheduled for Wednesday.
His lawyer from the Connecticut drunken driving case told the Associated Press that his client denied being intoxicated while driving last month. Prosecutors said Zhukovskyy failed a sobriety test at the scene, according to the AP.
The state of Massachusetts again suspended his license on Monday, and he was deemed an “immediate threat” on the road, according to records from the Registry of Motor Vehicles .
A review of his record showed Zhukovskyy also had other infractions: He was cited for an equipment violation in 2013; he also received a 90-day suspended jail sentence in Connecticut for a 2015 case of larceny, records show. The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn., reported that Zhukovskyy told police in that case that he and another person stole ladders and windows from a Home Depot warehouse.
In January 2017, an employee at a gas station in West Springfield picked up Zhukovskyy’s lost wallet and found cocaine and heroin inside, court records show. Zhukovskyy pleaded guilty to possession of the two drugs and was ordered to pay a $200 fine.
The Zhukovskyy family is originally from Ukraine and has lived in the United States for about 13 years.
“He was a nice boy,” his brother-in-law, Denis, said. “He would always get flowers for his mom on Mother’s Day. He would give his sisters a kiss and a hug. My kids love him. He was a nice uncle. We just have no words to describe what happened.”
The section of highway where the crash occurred is mostly straight, though there are dips and small curves that create blind spots.
After the collisions, “there was blood everywhere, along with motorcycle parts,” said Dr. Beatrice C. Engstrand, a neurologist at Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, N.H., who was among the first to arrive at the scene.
Some victims were “catapulted into the woods” by the impact, Engstrand said. The pickup truck came to rest at the edge of the trees and then exploded into flames, she said.
Jerry Hamanne, co-owner of the nearby Inn at Bowman, also rushed to the scene, where he heard the truck explode five times, he said.
“It was a horrific scene. . . . Such black fumes that went up like a mushroom,” Hamanne said. “The screaming of the people and the crying and yelling for help — you just didn’t know where to turn first.”
Manny Ribeiro, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Jarheads, said his group was “relieved” to learn of Zhukovskyy’s arrest.
“We’re all just trying to put the pieces together and figure out in our minds what the hell happened,” Ribeiro said.