Judge tossing drug charges likely led to Zhukovskyy acquittal, analyst says

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 5:08 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:47 PM EDT
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LANCASTER, N.H. (WCAX) - Not guilty verdicts in the trial of a truck driver accused in a deadly crash shocked and angered some. But for those following the trial, the verdicts came as no surprise.

When Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was arrested after the 2019 crash that killed seven people, including several former Marines, it appeared to be an open and closed case. Zhukovskyy admitted to using drugs, not paying attention, and, in his own words, causing the crash.

“He admitted to snorting drugs before getting behind the wheel that morning,” Coos County Attorney John McCormick said.

At trial, prosecutors told the jury that heroin and cocaine in Zhukovskyy’s system proved he was impaired, and one witness after the next testified he was driving recklessly.

“It was out of the ordinary that he was doing that,” witness Anthony Plant said.

“It swerved over toward the car in front of us and we went way over toward the white line,” witness Holly Coulter said.

But when it was the defense’s turn to build their case, a drastically different storyline emerged.

“Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was not the one who caused this accident,” defense lawyer Steve Mirkin said.

The defense argued that just because Zhukovskyy admitted to using drugs hours prior to the crash, that did not prove he was impaired. And, maybe more significantly, they placed the sole blame for the fatal collision on the lead driver in the pack of bikes.

“Albert ‘Woody’ Mazza was drunk, was not looking where he was going, lost control of his motorcycle,” Mirkin said.

William Howerton, a crash reconstruction expert, backed up the defense’s case, saying a serving bike could have set off the deadly chain of events.

“Principally focused on the first impact and then I also did a little work with the second impact,” Howerton said.

Patricia LaFrance is a former county attorney who now practices family law in New Hampshire with the Black Law Group.

“Given the information that came out, the testimony that came out, it was not surprising,” LaFrance said.

She says that’s partially due to the fact that, halfway through the trial, the judge threw out the charges related to driving under the influence. Police never questioned Zhukovskyy’s sobriety at the crash scene and the judge ruled prosecutors had failed to prove he was impaired.

“There is no consideration of intoxication and the fact that you have a defense witness talking about what caused the collision, that absolutely would add up to reasonable doubt,” LaFrance said.

After the verdict, prosecutors addressed members of the media.

“We appreciate the jury’s time and consideration for the charges and respect their ultimate conclusion. Our hearts obviously break for the victims’ families,” New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Scott Chase said.

But in a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu, R-New Hampshire, blasted the outcome, saying: “The Fallen Seven did not receive justice today, and that is an absolute tragedy. I share in the shock, outrage, and anger that so many have expressed in the three years since the seven members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club were taken from us.”

That prompted the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense lawyers to issue a statement of their own: “That our Governor would so loudly put his thumb on the scale is an abuse of his platform and his office. Agree or disagree, the jury here did its job and their decision deserves respect rather than public condemnation.”

Despite being acquitted on all 15 counts, Zhukovskyy is not a free man. The Ukrainian national has been served a detainer by the Department of Homeland Security which, according to our CBS affiliate in Boston, is due to his extensive criminal history and drug charges.

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