Truck driver was on drugs, reaching for drink at time of deadly New Hampshire crash, report says

Joey Garrison

BOSTON – The truck driver who killed seven motorcyclists when he crossed a double-yellow line on a highway in rural New Hampshire was high on drugs and claims he was reaching for a drink just before the collision, according to a federal inspection report.

The report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, obtained by USA TODAY via a public records request, offers the most detailed analysis yet of the deadly June 21 crash.The Boston Globe was the first to report the findings.

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a 23-year-old truck driver employed by Westfield Transport Inc., has been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide. 

The report says Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, tested positive for a narcotic or amphetamine, making him "incapable of safe operation" when he crashed the 2016 Dodge 2500 pickup truck and trailer. The report did not specify the drug.

How was he still licensed? Driver charged in 7 motorcycle deaths has arrest records in 6 states

The report also says that  Zhukovskyy admitted to investigators that he was reaching for a beverage on the passenger side of the truck at the time of the crash. It did not say what type of drink. In addition, the federal inspector found 24 safety violations with Zhukovskyy and the vehicle, including inoperable/defective brakes. Fourteen of the violations resulted from the collision.

Melissa Davis, Zhukovskyy's public defender, was unavailable for comment.

Zhukovskyy, who has pleaded not guilty to charges, was allowed to leave the scene of the crash despite a disturbing driving history. He was arrested three days later in Massachusetts. Pretrial court proceedings in Coos County Superior Court are set to begin in November. 

In this July 6, 2019, file photo, motorcyclists participate in a ride in Randolph, N.H., to remember seven bikers killed there in a collision with a pickup truck in June. State transportation officials in Massachusetts are expected to be questioned during a legislative oversight hearing on Monday, July 22, 2019, in Boston, about the Registry of Motor Vehicles' failure to suspend the commercial license of the truck driver charged in the crash that killed the seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire.

Zhukovskyy has been arrested in six states for drug-related and driving offenses, including the charges from the June 21 crash, and was involved in a rollover truck accident in Texas just weeks before.

Investigations from multiple New Hampshire law enforcement agencies, including the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, are ongoing. The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office last week opened an investigation into the trucking company that employed Zhukovskyy. The National Transportation Safety Board is also reviewing the crash.

The Globe quoted a spokesman from the National Transportation Safety Board who said the board's investigation will be "a comprehensive investigation that will include a close examination of the driver’s medical and behavioral health history, operating experience as well as a look at how he spent the 72 hours prior to the crash."

Nearly 13,000 'out-of-state violations': Massachusetts RMV knew about backlog of driving infractions years before deadly New Hampshire crash

The seven motorcyclists who died were members of the biker group Jarheads MC, which consists of Marine veterans and their spouses. 

The deadly motorcycle crash has turned into a scandal in Massachusetts, where the state's Registry of Motor Vehicles has admitted that Zhukovskyy's commercial driver's license should have been suspended following a May 11 drunken-driving charge in East Windsor, Connecticut.

Zhukovskyy's traffic violations go back to when he was 16 in 2012. He was charged with speeding, driving without a license and negligent operation of a motor vehicle in West Springfield. 

Zhukovskyy's first drunken-driving charge was in 2013 as a minor in Westfield, Massachusetts. He was suspended, but it did not disqualify him from receiving the commercial license under state and federal law.

The deadly motorcycle crash exposed that more than 1,600 Massachusetts drivers, just like Zhukovskyy, should have also had their driver's licenses revoked for out-of-state infractions. But the Massachusetts RMV had not been processing notices sent in by other states, instead storing them in dozens of bins in a state office that went unchecked.

The former head of the RMV, Erin Deveney, testified to Massachusetts lawmakers this week that to her knowledge, the RMV had never processed out-of-state notifications of driving instructions until she arrived at the agency in 2015. 

Deveney, who resigned following the crash, said she discovered the backlog during a review in 2015, and saw "an opportunity" to address it. She took the responsibility of processing of out-of-state driving notices away from the understaffed Driver Control Unit and into a different state division, the Merit Rating Board, which was perceived to be better equipped for the load. 

But she said the Merit Rating Board was hampered by a lack of resources as well. She said the process was slowed further by the fact that the board was told to prioritize in-state driving infractions. 

Contributing: The Associated Press 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Truck driver in fatal New Hampshire crash was on drugs, report says