Motorist safety systems did not prevent the drug-receiving driver from crashing into an oncoming motorcycle group in New Hampshire last year, resulting in the deaths of seven motorcyclists, the National Road Safety Board said Tuesday.
The panel unanimously approved the report, which found that Volodymyr Zhukovsky’s drug damage was the “probable cause” of crossing the center line on a rural, two-lane highway and triggering a fire accident.
But he also blamed Massachusetts for allowing Zhukovsky to continue driving, despite violations in which there were more because of drunk driving. He also said the Federal Automobile Safety Agency did not do enough to solve the problems at Zhukovskyy.
“There have been several failures at multiple levels of the system, a system that is said to provide a safety net that protects us when we are on the road to our nation,” NTSB President Robert Sumwalt told reporters. “Unfortunately, there were several holes in the safety net.”
Zhukovsky returned from transporting vehicles from the Massachusetts transportation company and towed an empty flatbed trailer.
NTSB investigators told the panel that Zhukovsky’s system contains drugs, including opioids. Witnesses were also told that he reported driving illegally.
Investigators found that neither cell phone use nor weather was a factor. However, they could not rule out fatigue, but concluded that its effect due to drug use was not clear.
The accident occurred on June 21, 2019 in Randolph. The seven motorcyclists were members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, a New England group that included Marines and their spouses. The victims are from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
West Springfield, Massachusetts, 23-year-old Zhukovskyy pleaded guilty to negligent murder and driving. He will remain in custody as he awaits trial next year. His lawyer did not respond immediately to the request for comment on Tuesday.
Documents issued by the NTSB last month revealed that Zhukovsky had told authorities he had used heroin and cocaine on a regular basis, but believed he was not harmed at the time of the accident. He told Massachusetts State Police that he had used heroin and cocaine on the morning of the accident.
Zhukovsky’s lawyers argued that an independent analysis showed that a motorcyclist was drunk and he hit the van and caused the accident. No comments were made on Tuesday after the NTSB released its report.
Investigators found that some of the 15 motorcyclists and seven passengers, including the driver motorcyclist, suffered from alcohol consumption, but this did not cause the accident.
The NTSB found Massachusetts to have contributed to the accident by not revoking Zhukovsky’s driver’s license in advance. Had the Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Registry acted, Zhukovsky’s license would have been suspended from June 10 to 11 days before the accident and July 25 would have been reinstated.
The record did not act on information from the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles that Zhukovsky was arrested in East Windsor on May 11 in the Walmart parking lot after failing a sobriety test – which should have been his license.
It later emerged that Massachusetts had been struggling for years to close the chronic lag in processing reports of driver violations by other states. Registry officials acknowledge that such notifications have been unprocessed for tens of thousands of years.
“They obviously knew they had a problem, but they just didn’t address it,” Sumwalt said. – It is clear that the Massachusetts RMV dropped the ball.
Similar problems have been found in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and at least six other jurisdictions, the NTSB found.
Zhukovsky led to Westfield Transport at the time of the accident. There have been past violations at the company, and NTSB investigators say the 3-year-old carrier “significantly disregarded federal motor carrier safety rules” and “was a motor carrier regardless of safety”.
The company did not have a corporate security program, a drug testing program, and its records did not show that it had a service and repair system. One manager also admitted that the company lied to investigators about some of the revised management logs.
A review by the Federal Automobile Safety Agency also found more than two dozen violations on the part of the company. But the NTSB said the safety administration could have done more to address the company’s shortcomings even before the accident.
The agency had identified a moderate risk to the company four months earlier due to the growing number of violations. But that, according to the NTSB, “was not enough to trigger further scrutiny in the form of a compliance review that could find out how much security risk Westfield posed.”
FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne said the agency’s primary goal is always to reduce accidents in commercial vehicles.
“As always, the FMCSA is reviewing the NTSB’s recommendations and will continue to focus on promoting the safety of large trucks and buses,” he said.
The company shut down shortly after the accident. The owner’s contact information for the comment could not be found.