Truck driver charged with killing motorcyclists in New Hampshire shouldn’t have had a license, Massachusetts official says

Posted at 11:29 AM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 13:29:50-04

A Massachusetts official is resigning after the state found that a truck driver charged with killing seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire should have had his license terminated after an intoxicated-driving charge last month, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation says.

Massachusetts DOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack said a miscommunication led to Volodymyr Zhukovskyy keeping his commercial driver’s license. In a statement, she placed part of the blame on Connecticut.

Survivor: ‘It was just all fire’

Zhukovskyy, 23 — who investigators say was driving erratically, causing Friday’s collision — has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of negligent homicide. He waived his arraignment Tuesday, according to court documents, and did not appear in a New Hampshire court to face the charges. He remains in custody.

Erin Deveney, registrar for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, stepped down from her post Tuesday. Her resignation came amid indications that Zhukovskyy’s commercial driver’s license should have been automatically yanked when he allegedly declined to take a chemical test after police suspected him of being intoxicated in East Windsor, Connecticut, on May 11.

Why did he have a license?

Zhukovskyy received his commercial driver’s license August 3, despite having a June 2013 violation for operating a vehicle under the influence, the Massachusetts DOT said.

Because he was under 21 at the time of the violation — and because he served suspensions and attended special classes, including a youth alcohol program — there was nothing to disqualify him from obtaining a commercial driver’s license in 2018, the department said.

However, after the May 11 charges in Connecticut, Zhukovskyy’s alleged refusal to take a chemical test should have been reported to Massachusetts, setting in motion a seven-day process for suspending his noncommercial driver’s license and immediately terminating his commercial license, the Massachusetts DOT said.

A witness told police that Zhukovskyy was revving his truck engine and jumping around outside his vehicle at an East Windsor Walmart, according to a police report. Police arrived, performed a field sobriety test, charged him with operating a vehicle under the influence, released him on a $2,500 bond and took him to Hartford Hospital for evaluation, the report says.

Zhukovskyy was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday in the Connecticut case, court records say, but Coos County Attorney John McCormick said Zhukovskyy was being held on a detention order in New Hampshire. Defense attorney John O’Brien told CNN that he expected the Connecticut hearing to be postponed.

Mixup between Connecticut, Massachusetts?

“To the [Registry of Motor Vehicles’] knowledge, Connecticut failed to provide sufficient information” through the federal system that states use to share information on violations, the Massachusetts DOT said.

Instead, the department said, Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles waited 18 days and used a special state-to-state messaging system to alert Massachusetts to the charges against Zhukovskyy — and then, the message did not contain sufficient information to automatically add the May 11 charges to his Massachusetts driving record.

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles flagged the Connecticut notification for manual review, the Massachusetts DOT said, but as of Sunday, no one with the registry had conducted a review.

A representative for the Connecticut DMV could not immediately be reached Wednesday for comment.

“The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles has a responsibility to enforce the laws governing safe operation of vehicles,” said Pollack, the DOT secretary. “But in this case, the RMV had not acted on information provided by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles about a May 11 incident that should have triggered termination of this individual’s commercial driver’s license.”

Massachusetts DOT Chief Operating Officer James Tesler will take over as acting registrar after Deveney’s resignation and will review the processes states use to share information, Pollack said.

More charges possible?

Investigators say Zhukovskyy was driving erratically and crossed a double yellow line in Randolph before plowing into members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, killing seven of them, including some Marines veterans and their spouses. Located just west of the Maine border, Randolph is about 100 miles north of Concord, the New Hampshire capital.

A driver for Springfield, Massachusetts-based Westfield Transport Inc., Zhukovskyy was the sole occupant of the pickup, said McCormick, the Coos County attorney.

Friday’s wreck occurred during Zhukovskyy’s second trip with the company on the third day of his 30-day trial period, said the company’s principal, Dartanyan Gasanov.

State police collision analysis and reconstruction teams are investigating the crash, along with local police, McCormick’s office and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Zhukovskyy could also be charged with possessing illegal narcotics, Massachusetts State Police said. The agency’s lab is testing wax packets containing suspicious residue that were recovered from his home, it said.

Melissa Davis, Zhukovskyy’s attorney in the New Hampshire case, did not respond to a request for comment.