Days before jury selection was scheduled to start for a truck driver charged with causing the deaths of seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire in 2019, a judge on Wednesday granted a defense request to continue the trial to March over concerns about a crash reconstruction expert's prior job history with the Massachusetts State Police.
Coos County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein did not set a new date for the trial of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 25, of West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Lawyers were scheduled to start picking jurors on Nov. 16 for his Nov. 29 trial on multiple counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, driving under the influence and reckless conduct stemming from the crash that happened in Randolph on June 21, 2019. Zhukovskyy pleaded not guilty.
The victims, members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
At what was scheduled as a final pretrial hearing Tuesday, lawyers argued over Zhukovskyy's timeline leading up to the crash and witness accounts of a truck hauling a flatbed trailer, as well as anticipated testimony from expert witnesses on drug and alcohol impairment. Zhukovskyy, who has been jailed since the crash, appeared in court wearing a suit, and was not handcuffed.
Later Tuesday, the defense filed a motion saying they could no longer present their accident reconstruction expert, Stephen Benanti, at trial, based on information prosecutors provided to them Monday night about Benanti's prior employment with the Massachusetts State Police. Prosecutors had questioned Benanti during a Sept. 30 deposition.
The motion said prosecutors “provided the defense with a large volume of confidential materials" that was subject to a protective order. A court document filed Friday agreed that the records would not be made public and said that they referenced disciplinary actions, including actions regarding Benanti’s co-workers and subordinates.
The defense said based upon their review of the information, they no longer believed they could present Benanti “without substantially compromising" Zhukovskyy's rights “to present all proofs favorable to his defense." They said they would not be able to go to trial in time without the help of a similar crash reconstruction expert.
Benanti was described in the motion as “an established reconstruction specialist with more than thirty years’ experience in the field, including more than a decade as superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police reconstruction unit." He has been working with Zhukovskyy's lawyers since August 2019.