One of the deadliest crashes in New Hampshire history has left a community of motorcyclists in mourning and a slew of unanswered questions.
Outrage has been simmering over why truck driver Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, now charged with seven counts of negligent homicide, was allowed behind the wheel.
Seven people, many of them Marine veterans, were killed in the wreck last Friday. It was not the first time Zhukovskyy has been arrested. The 23-year-old from Ukraine pleaded not guilty to the charges in Friday's crash and is being held without bail in a New Hampshire jail.
But the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said Zhukovskyy shouldn't have been driving a truck in the first place. He was arrested in Connecticut in May on suspicion of driving under the influence and the head of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles resigned after her agency didn't take away his commercial driver's license.
As the victims begin to be laid to rest, here's what we know about the tragedy.
What happened in the crash?
Just before 6:30 p.m. on Friday evening, June 21, Zhukovskyy's Dodge pickup truck was towing a flatbed trailer as it traveled west on Route 2 in Randolph, just north of Mt. Washington near the Maine border, according to New Hampshire State Police.
Seven of the motorcyclists died, while the other three were taken to the hospital — one by helicopter.
The crash left the road littered with motorcycle debris while flames erupted from the pickup, which settled beyond the ditch on the side of the road. Witnesses called the scene "chaotic" and "devastating."
"I never saw the truck. I just heard an explosion and saw parts flying," said JarHeads Massachusetts chapter president Manny Ribeiro, who survived the crash along with his wife, Valerie Ribeiro.
Who Were the Victims?
The JarHeads Motorcycle Club is made up mainly of honorably discharged Marine veterans and their spouses. It said that their members were driving to an American Legion post in Gorham, New Hampshire, for an event when the wreck happened.
"We're like a family. They're not just a bunch of guys on bikes. I'm just at a loss," Valerie Ribeiro said.
The motorcyclists who died, among them a married couple, have been remembered as generous and kind as their funerals approached. Their names are:
- Michael Ferazzi, age 62, of Contoocook, New Hampshire
- Albert Mazza, age 59, of Lee, New Hampshire
- Daniel Pereira, age 58, of Riverside, Rhode Island
- Joanne & Edward Corr, both age 58, of Lakeville, Massachusetts
- Desma Oakes, age 42, of Concord, New Hampshire
- Aaron Perry, age 45, of Farmington, New Hampshire
The Corrs tirelessly supported veterans, holding fundraisers and going to events, according to Gerard Milch, commander of the Middleboro, Massachusetts, VFW. Milch said, "There cannot be another couple that can be equal to Eddie and Jo-Ann."
Desma Oakes' teenage son said she was so strong that "nothing could stop her," not even the deaths of his younger brother or father. She was funny, kind and caring, too, 18-year-old Colby Oickle said, and she loved to dance enough that he ordered a dance floor for the celebration of her life on Saturday.
Ferazzi always wore a smile, even through a recent struggle with cancer, Manny Ribeiro told The Associated Press. The father of four, a Plymouth police officer for three decades, "was just one of those guys who was genuine and funny."
Services for three of the victims were being held on Friday.
How to Help
The club said on its website after the crash, "We are strong enough to get through this, but we ask for and need your support."
It launched a GoFundMe fundraising drive that had raised more than $500,000 from nearly 10,000 people by Friday morning.
Marines have donated from around the world, according to Manny Ribeiro.
"From the accident to what I saw afterward to what I see now, these guys are just amazing," he said.
There's also been an outpouring of local support.
"When one falls, we all fall, and that's why we want to show strong, strong support for this whole group here and their families because they really need it," veteran Don Laliberte said at a vigil Wednesday.
Who Was the Driver?
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy is a young immigrant from Ukraine with a history of brushes with the law in the United States.
The 23-year-old wasn't immediately arrested after the New Hampshire crash, only being taken into custody on Monday, several days later, at his home in West Springfield, Massachusetts. He was taken to New Hampshire and charged with seven counts of negligent homicide, to which he pleaded not guilty.
He has had run-ins with police across the country, dating back to when he was a teenager, the NBC10 Boston Investigators found.
In 2013, when he was 17, Zhukovskyy was arrested in Westfield on suspicion of striking two cars, having an open liquor bottle in his own car and failing sobriety tests. He agreed to serve a nearly 7-month licens suspension before prosecutors dropped other charges.
He was charged with larceny two years later in connection with a Home Depot warehouse theft and received a suspended jail sentence.
Neverthelesss, Zhukovskyy received his commercial driver's license in August 2018 — after which he was charged or cited in a string of incidents in Texas, Iowa and Connecticut, involving allegations including a drug arrest in February (see video below).
In that same town, 18 days before the New Hampshire crash, a tractor-trailer Zhukovskyy was hauling flipped over. He told officers he was swerving to avoid a car and was not cited.
The company that employed him, Westfield Transport, also has a history of violations, including seven for unsafe driving, according to an Associated Press review of federal vehicle safety data. The company didn't respond to the AP for comment.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ordered a detainer on Zhukovskyy, indicating that they aim to take him into custody after local criminal proceedings finish. His father told The Boston Herald that the 23-year-old has a green card, but an ICE official wouldn't comment on his U.S. residency status to NBC10 Boston.
Why Was the Suspect Allowed to Drive?
Zhukovskyy still had his commercial driver's license at the time of the wreck, but Massachusetts determined afterward that it should have been revoked based on a recent incident in Connecticut.
An operating-under-the-influence arrest in May should have triggered the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles to review Zhukovskyy's account, and that review would have resulted in the license being taken away, Massachusetts Transportation chief Stephanie Pollack said in a statement. (She also said Connecticut failed to provide the information that would have triggered an automatic review process, which Connecticut denies.
As the details came out, the head of the RMV, Erin Deveney, resigned.
"[I]n 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," Pollack said.
But Deveney's resignation wasn't enough for Manny Ribeiro.
"Resigning is not really the answer, is it? Resigning is only just walking away from the problem," he said.
Pollack has promised an in-depth review of what happened.
What Comes Next?
Zhukovskyy's criminal trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 8 with jury selection.
Meanwhile, the there will be more services throughout the weekend.