The National Transportation Safety Board says multiple factors--from a breakdown in DMV record keeping to driver intoxication--are all to blame for a catastrophic 2019 crash in the small town of Randolph, N.H. that left seven motorcyclists dead.
The NTSB’s review of the crash, which involved a pick-up truck towing an empty trailer and a group of 18 motorcyclists, concluded that the probable cause of the accident was drug use by Vladimir Zhukovskyy, the 23-year-old driver of the truck, which drifted onto the double yellow line around 6:26pm on June 21. Bloodwork showed cocaine and fentanyl in his system at the time of the crash. Zhukovskyy is facing seven counts of negligent homicide, and remains in jail awaiting trial.
The bikers were all members of the Jarhead Motorcycle Club, which is made up of Marines.
Accident reconstruction experts with the NTSB believe Zhukovskyy drifted onto the double yellow line, where he struck the lead motorcyclist.
“He had a history of drug use, and had multiple drugs and metabolites in his system at the time of the crash,” investigator Dennis Collins told the NTSB Board. “And the driver most likely crossed the center line as the result of impairment resulting from his use of multiple drugs.”
The NTSB said that the front motorcyclist in the pack, who died at the scene of the accident, had a .135 blood alcohol level and wasn’t wearing a helmet, though the agency is not placing blame for the crash on any of the bikers.
The NTSB also says that Zhukovskyy’s employer, Westfield Transport, failed to perform a federally-mandated background check on him, and was also determined to have routinely altered driver logs. Zhukovskky was employed with the Massachusetts company for just two days when he delivered a car to a Berlin dealership. He was returning home with the empty trailer when he struck the bikers.
“This crash was preventable,” said NTSB investigator Michael Fox. “Our investigation determined that Westfield Transport was in severe non-compliance of the regulations and operated without regard for safety.”
The NTSB's four hour hearing Tuesday also spent considerable time discussing failures by state motor vehicle agencies for failing to communicate with each other regarding out-of-state infractions.
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles failed to process a DUI notification for Zhukovskyy that was submitted by Connecticut’s motor vehicle agency just weeks before the Randolph crash. If that paperwork had been processed, Zhukovskyy’s commercial driver’s license would have been suspended. A subsequent review found that multiple states also had backlogs in processing out-of-state notifications.
“The deeper we dig into this thing, the more problems we see,” said NTSB Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “This was not just a Massachusetts issue. We found problems with Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and I suspect that it’s not just limited to New England. This is a systemic issue.”
The NTSB found that Zhukovskyy wasn’t on his cell phone and that weather didn’t play a factor in the crash. The agency also spent time discussing motorcycle helmet laws. New Hampshire is one of just three states that don’t require any motorcycle operators to wear a helmet. Of the 18 riders involved in the crash, the NTSB says 12 were wearing federally-approved helmets at the time of the collision.
In addition to a DUI in Connecticut earlier in 2019, Zhukovskyy’s driving history also showed a rollover accident in Texas and a second driving under the influence infraction in Ohio from several years prior. He admitted to law enforcement about his drug use on the morning of the Randolph crash, though he stated he was reaching for a drink and took his eye off the road, leading to the collision.
He’s pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.
The NTSB issued a 20-point report that was unanimously adopted by the agency’s board, including a series of safety recommendations aimed at states that would require enhanced attention to notifications of infractions when committed by out-of-state drivers.
The agency is also recommending New Hampshire change its laws to require motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets.