Aug. 10-The truck driver accused of killing seven motorcyclists in a 2019 crash in Randolph was found not guilty of all charges on Tuesday.
After deliberating less than three hours, the Coos County jury found Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 26, of West Springfield, Mass., not guilty on all 15 counts, including manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless conduct.
The full acquittal marked a dramatic shift from three years of public judgment against Zhukovskyy.
As the jury forewoman read the "not guilty" verdicts, Zhukovskyy wiped away tears and pointed at the sky.
Friends and families of the seven motorcyclists who died in the crash gasped as the verdicts were read. "How do you (expletive) sleep at night?" one woman asked aloud.
In the weeks and months after the crash, investigators and state officials showed little doubt of Zhukovskyy's culpability.
The National Transportation Safety Board declared in a 2020 report that Zhukovskyy was under the influence of heroin and cocaine and had crossed the center line of the highway, striking the group of 22 motorcyclists and passengers.
Zhukovskyy became the poster child of an investigation into record-keeping at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, after the registry failed to suspend Zhukovskyy's license to drive following a Connecticut crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board also termed the now-closed trucking company that employed Zhukovskyy a "safety hazard" for failing to check Zhukovskyy's driving history before he was hired.
Re-examination of the initial state police report on the crash site pointed to Zhukovskyy driving straight on Route 2, with motorcyclist Albert "Woody" Mazza veering across the center line of the highway.
End of a three-year prosecution
Zhukovskyy has been held without bail since he was arrested on June 24, 2019, three days after the crash.
Initially, Zhukovskyy faced 23 criminal charges: seven negligent homicide charges, seven manslaughter charges and a single reckless conduct charge and eight charges related to driving under the influence.
Prosecutors alleged Zhukovskyy had been driving under the influence and crossed the center line of the highway, crashing into the group of motorcyclists early in the morning.
But during the trial, defense attorneys complicated the prosecutors' narrative, suggesting Mazza, the president of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, lost control of his bike and crashed into Zhukovskyy.
Along with Mazza, the crash killed Michael Ferazzi of Contoocook; Desma Oakes of Concord; Aaron Perry of Farmington; Daniel Pereira of Riverside, R.I.; and Jo-Ann and Edward Corr of Lakeville, Mass.
In closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorney Jay Duguay told jurors Tuesday that Mazza caused the accident because he was drunk, inattentive and crossed into Zhukovskyy.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Chase focused on Zhukovskyy's statements to police just after the crash, saying he thought he caused the crash.
He conceded that Mazza's intoxication represented "a poor choice," but that it "didn't have anything to do with the crash."
Mazza was "an easy target" for the defense, said Chase, who told jurors that the evidence of Zhukovskyy's guilt was "beyond-a-reasonable-doubt clear."
State police testified in court that they had not observed signs of impairment in Zhukovskyy, who had admitted to using drugs about 10 hours before the crash.
Last week, Judge Peter Bornstein dismissed eight additional charges related to driving under the influence. The judge stated the prosecution had failed to produce sufficient evidence to support them.
On Tuesday, the defense and prosecution delivered closing arguments, and the jury began deliberating at 11:45 a.m. The jury returned the verdicts at 2:40 p.m.
Attorney General John Formella said in a statement he was disappointed but respected the verdict and system of justice.
"Our trial team did an excellent job and we firmly believe the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt," Formella said.
Gov. Chris Sununu slammed the jury's verdict.
"The fallen seven did not receive justice today, and that is an absolute tragedy," Sununu said in a statement.
Robin Melone, head of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, praised the two public defenders who represented Zhukovskyy, Jay Duguay and Steve Mirkin, but said the state based its charges on "a faulty" accident reconstruction.
"I think they made a conclusion and then built a case around that conclusion," she said.
Reporter Shawne K. Wickham contributed to this story.