Report: Driver who hit bikers was under influence of drugs

National

FILE – In this June 24, 2019 file photo, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, the driver of a pickup truck in a fiery collision on a highway in rural Randolph, N.H., that killed seven motorcyclists, stands with his attorney Donald Frank during a hearing in Springfield District Court in Springfield, Mass. The Boston Globe reported Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, that a federal report it obtained found that Zhukovskyy tested positive for an unspecified drug after his pickup truck crossed the center yellow line and crashed into the motorcyclists. The document also said Zhukovskyy admitted that he reached for a drink just before the crash. (Don Treeger/The Republican via AP, Pool, File)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The driver involved in a crash that killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire was under the influence of drugs and reached for a beverage just before the collision, according to a federal inspection report obtained Thursday.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that a toxicology report showed Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was positive for an unspecified drug that made him incapable of driving safely when his pickup truck crossed the center yellow line and crashed into motorcyclists.

Zhukovskyy also said that he reached for a drink on the passenger side of the truck just before the crash, according to the report. That violation was labeled as “inattentive driving.”

The findings were part of an inspection that also found that Zhukovskyy’s vehicle had defective lighting and was missing some wheel fasteners.

The Boston Globe first reported on the agency’s findings.

Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to negligent homicide in the crash. The seven who died were members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, a New England group that includes Marines and their spouses.

A phone message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Zhukovskyy. A spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said the office could not comment on the report, citing the ongoing investigation and prosecution.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said it was in the early stages of the investigation, which would include the driver’s medical and behavioral health history and couldn’t comment on another agency’s report.

Since the crash, it has emerged that Zhukovskyy had multiple run-ins with the law.

In May, Connecticut prosecutors said Zhukovskyy was arrested in a Walmart parking lot after failing a sobriety test. Zhukovskyy’s lawyer in that case, John O’Brien, said he denies being intoxicated and will fight the charge.

Connecticut officials twice alerted Massachusetts about an earlier drunken driving arrest. Massachusetts investigators later determined the Registry of Motor Vehicles hadn’t been acting on thousands of out-of-state notifications about serious driving violations.

Also, police in Texas told several media outlets that Zhukovskyy also crashed a tractor trailer in suburban Houston in June. Zhukovskyy told police that he had been cut off, causing him to lose control of the truck. He was not charged.

Zhukovskyy was also arrested on a drunken driving charge in 2013 in Westfield, Massachusetts, state records show. He was placed on probation for one year and had his license suspended for 210 days, The Westfield News reported.

The Massachusetts company that Zhukovskyy was driving for on the day of June 21 crash also has a troubled history.

According to an Associated Press analysis of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data, Westfield Transport Inc. faced over 60 violations over the last 24 months.

About one in five inspections of its vehicles ended with federal investigators issuing temporary orders saying the carrier was not authorized to operate. The company’s out-of-service rate is 20.8% — a figure nearly four times greater than the national average of 5.5%.

Federal records show the company has faced seven violations for unsafe driving, including speeding. The company also faced two violations in March 2018, reported in Massachusetts and Vermont, of drivers who were in possession of a narcotic drug or amphetamine.

A person answering the phone at Westfield Transport, who did not identify himself, would only say the company no longer exists and that he wanted to express condolences to the victims. He did not want to comment further and hung up the phone.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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