Members of the local motorcycle riding community were dismayed Tuesday after the acquittal of the driver involved in a head-on collision that killed seven motorcycle riders in New Hampshire in 2019.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, who is from West Springfield, was found not guilty of negligent homicide, manslaughter and reckless conduct by a New Hampshire jury that deliberated for less than 3 hours. The crash killed members of the Jugheads Motorcycle Club, who were from across New England.
Speaking after the ruling, prosecutor John McCormick, tried to keep a level head.
"We litigated hard. We didn't get all the rulings we wanted but we litigated hard and we respect the court's decisions, we respect the jury's decisions," he said.
The high-profile case sent waves through Northeast with the revelation that Zhukovskyy's license should have been suspended weeks before the crash. Connecticut officials had notified the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles that Zhukovskyy had refused an alcohol test during a traffic stop. The case led to a shake-up at the RMV, an investigation into Zhukovskyy's employer by Attorney General Maura Healey and the discovery of thousands of other residents whose driver's licenses should have been suspended for out-of-state violations.
But for members of the local motorcycle community, the verdict hit close to home. Thomas Hood is president of the Riders Motorcycle Club of Boston, the largest and oldest gay men's motorcycle club in New England.
While he hadn't personally taken a close look at the verdict himself, he described the response he's seen from other motorcycle riders as dismayed.
"There's a lot of disgust with the general outcome," he said. "It was completely unexpected. The general opinion seems to be that they should have got him at least on some kind of negligent homicide."
The proesecution had argued that Zhukovskyy had taken illegal substances the day of the crash, as Zhukovskyy had admitted to police that he had taken heroin and cocaine that same morning, but judge dismissed eight charges related to his alleged impairment.
Daniel Medwed, a legal analyst for GBH News, said he wasn't entirely surprised by the verdict. He pointed out that the jury could not give a compromise verdict — acquit on the top counts but convict on the lower counts — since the judge had dismissed the counts involving substance use.
"That said, [Zhukovskyy] could still face the music in civil litigation because the standard of proof, the burden of proof, is far lower in a civil case than the very high proof beyond a reasonable doubt threshold in a criminal prosecution," he said.
Still, Hood said it's difficult to understand how the jury came to its decision.
"[Motorcyclists] are understandably upset," he said. "Seven people died and a bunch more got injured and nobody's going to jail for it."
Rocco Libertine, chairman of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, was a little more reserved.
"The Massachusetts Motorcycle Association is resovled to continue our mission of awareness, safety eduction and legislation for motorcyclists of Massachusetts," he said.
Libertine said the group would have a longer statement at a later date. The Jugheads Motorcycle Club didn't respond to a request for comment from GBH News.
Still, Hood pointed out that motorcycle safety is a perennial problem. He described it as driving with an assumption that everbody's a hired hitman trying to get you.
"In general, I don't think there are more laws you could write, there aren't more rules you can make that are gonna help this," he said. "I think the only thing that helps this is education and heightened awareness on both the vehicle drivers’ part and the motorcyclists part. You can't legislate your way out of an accident."