Fallout from fatal New Hampshire crash continues with state officials pointing fingers

Fallout from the crash that killed seven motorcyclists last week continued Wednesday, as a top Connecticut official insisted that his state had properly notified the state of Massachusetts about the driving violations of the man now accused of causing the fatal collision.

“If the information we sent was insufficient, we’re still waiting to hear how,” Tony Guerrera, deputy commissioner of Connecticut’s motor vehicles department said Wednesday evening.

His defense came a day after the head of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles resigned, and Massachusetts officials accepted some of the responsibility for failing to suspend the commercial driver’s license of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, who is charged with negligent homicide in the fiery New Hampshire crash.

Just six weeks before the crash, Zhukovskyy was stopped by police in Connecticut, refused a chemical test, and was arrested and charged with operating under the influence, Massachusetts officials said. That should have resulted in the suspension of his commercial license, but Massachusetts officials said this week that Connecticut “failed to provide sufficient information” about the arrest through a national tracking system.

However, Massachusetts did receive a notification for a manual review, which registry personnel in Massachusetts did not conduct.

In an interview Wednesday, Guerrera said that the Connecticut department reviewed the case and found that its internal reporting protocols were followed properly, and that a May 29 message to Massachusetts included police codes indicating that Zhukovskyy declined the chemical test.

“Unless someone can show me something different, I think we dotted all of our I’s and crossed our T’s,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which runs the national system that alerts agencies of driver violations, said Wednesday it appeared Connecticut officials followed the correct procedure.

The oversight led to the resignation of the head of the Massachusetts RMV, Erin Deveney, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the RMV, declined to comment, referring to the agency’s statement a day earlier.

Speaking to reporters at the State House, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said the registry is undertaking “a thorough review of not only the process involving this particular license holder but also a review of the entire process.”

“It’s very important that the Registry of Motor Vehicles implement the law, implement the procedures that govern the public safety, and in this case there was a process that needed to be adhered to that was not,” Polito said. “And there was a very significant outcome that we all realize.”

Polito said she could not answer whether other drivers with similar infractions have licenses.

Zhukovskyy, of West Springfield, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Lancaster, N.H., to seven counts of negligent homicide. Federal authorities have placed him on a detainer, planning to take him into ICE custody once the legal proceedings conclude.

His case raises several questions about how commercial drivers’ records are monitored. While state agencies issue licenses, the commercial trucking industry is regulated via a complex matrix of state and federal laws.

Anyone applying for a license to operate a commercial vehicle faces a battery of written and performance tests, background checks, and medical exams. States authorities monitor commercial truck drivers via the national alert system, which notifies licensing agencies when a license holder commits a driving-related violation.

Zhukovskyy’s record includes a string of driving and drug-related violations that began in earnest in 2013, when he was arrested on drunk driving charges.

Per state and federal guidelines, that arrest did not disqualify him from obtaining a commercial driving license in 2018. In Massachusetts, a first impaired driving offense carries a year suspension. A second carries a lifetime ban. Drivers can appeal to lift the ban 10 years after the offense.

While large trucking companies tend to hold themselves to high standards, smaller motor carries sometimes “cut corners in order to put a warm body in the seat to get a truck to go down the road,” said Scott L. Turner, a trucking industry consultant and former New Jersey State Police car crash investigator.

Turner said systems that monitor commercial trucking companies and drivers have improved significantly over the years. But he said gaps remain, and a shortage of drivers — due to a strong economy and low unemployment — has left some companies desperate to make hires.

Federal records show that the Massachusetts company that owns the truck Zhukovskyy was driving had racked up serious driver-related violations over the past two years at a rate four times higher than the national average.

Commercial vehicles undergo roadside inspections to determine whether they are in compliance with federal regulations, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website.

Over the past 24 months, 48 inspections were conducted on drivers working for Westfield Transport Inc., records on the agency’s website show.

Ten of those inspections, or 20.8 percent, resulted in at least one “out-of-service” order, nearly four times the national average of about 5 percent, records show. An out-of-service order is issued for serious violations.

Federal records for Westfield Transport listed no reported crashes that resulted in fatalities, injuries, or tows over the past two years.

Zhukovskyy had begun working for Westfield Transport three days before the crash, the company’s owner, Dartanyan Gasanov, said this week, adding that he wasn’t aware of Zhukovskyy having driving issues in the past.

Federal records indicate the company has five drivers and five vehicles.

Just 18 days before the New Hampshire crash, Zhukovskyy was driving a car carrier for a different Massachusetts company that rolled over on a Texas highway, authorities there have said.

Zhukovskyy told police in Baytown, Texas, that he had overcorrected after a car cut him off. Police could not locate the vehicle Zhukovskyy said cut him off, said Baytown police Lieutenant Steve Dorris. The truck was carrying five cars at the time.

Zhukovskyy was uninjured in the June 3 crash, did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was not cited by police, Dorris said.

Also, Zhukovskyy was arrested in February at a Denny’s restaurant in Baytown along Interstate 10, near the spot of his rollover.

Zhukovskyy was unsteady on his feet and his pupils were dilated. Officers said it was “pretty clear he was intoxicated,” Dorris said. They found that Zhukovskyy was carrying a crack pipe, and he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/26/fallout-from-fatal-new-hampshire-crash-continues-with-state-officials-pointing-fingers/8q33yfYqIItsHW6qdjSXhO/story.html?p1=SectionFront_Feed_ContentQuery

Police: Mazomanie man found passed out at Mauston Kwik Trip faces meth charges

A Mazomanie man is facing methamphetamine charges after he was allegedly found passed out behind the wheel at a Mauston Kwik Trip.

Raymond Pletzer, 56, of Mazomanie is charged with felony possession of methamphetamine, repeater, and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, repeater. He faces us to three years and six months in prison or a fine of up to $10,000, or both, for the felony charge. As Pletzer has a prior conviction for felony possession of narcotic drugs within a five year period from this arrest, he faces a possible additional four years in prison.

According to the criminal complaint:

At about 5:11 a.m. May 18, a deputy was dispatched to the Mauston Kwik Trip on Gateway Drive for a reported suspicious vehicle. When the deputy arrived, he found a vehicle parked across several parking spots and halfway into the fire lane, with the driver slumped over. The deputy could not tell initially if the driver was sleeping or unconscious.

The deputy approached the vehicle and tapped on the driver side window, but the driver did not respond. He then opened the door and tapped the driver on the shoulder. The driver seemed disoriented and attempted to drive away.

The driver, who was identified as Raymond Pletzer, was told to stop and step out of the car. When Pletzer stepped out of the car, the car started rolling, as it had been in neutral and not park. Asked why the car was not in park, Pletzer said that he did not know and that he was tired.

Pletzer had visible syringes in his right front shirt pocket, which he initially claimed were darts. Pletzer could not tell the deputy where he was going, or what city he was currently in. He repeated that he was tired and stopped to sleep. https://madison.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/

Report: Former Seahawk draft pick Malik McDowell facing charges of truck theft, fighting with police in Michigan

Malik McDowell (94), defensive tackle, warms up during the first day of rookie minicamp for the Seahawks, at the VMAC facility in Renton in May, 2017.
(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Malik McDowell (94), defensive tackle, warms up during the first day of rookie minicamp for the Seahawks, at the VMAC facility in Renton in May, 2017. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Former Seahawk draft pick Malik McDowell, who last month was sued by the team for repayment of part of his signing bonus, is facing new legal troubles in his native state of Michigan, including assault of a police officer and resisting arrest as well as receiving a stolen truck said to be worth $74,000, according to a report Wednesday from DetroitNews.com.

The newspaper reported that McDowell will appear Thursday in Oakland County Circuit Court on the charges in the two incidents.

The paper reported that McDowell was involved in a scuffle in February with two police officers who tried to arrest him on suspicion of drunken driving and that two months later McDowell was charged with receiving and concealing stolen property in connection with the truck, which he had claimed he had purchased for $3,000.

The paper reported that during the February incident, McDowell confronted one of the arresting officers inside a gas station, refused to hand over his license and grabbed his wrists and put his hand on the officer’s gun, according to a police report, and that “during the exchange, there was heavy extensive damage to the inside of the store.”

After being subdued, McDowell was charged with assault/resisting arrest, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and fines, and operating while intoxicated, according to the paper.

McDowell has also been charged with receiving and concealing stolen property, the paper reported, as a result of an investigation of pickup thefts from a Ford Motor Co. overflow lot in Dearborn. The paper reported that if convicted McDowell could be sentenced to up to five years in prison as well as fined $10,000.

The paper reported McDowell’s attorney, Mitchell Ribitwer, as saying “My client has had some troubles this year. We hope to resolve these matters but first will seek an adjournment in court Thursday.”

McDowell was the Seahawks’ top pick in the 2017 draft, taken in the second round at number 35 overall.

But he never played a down for the team after suffering head injuries in an ATV accident in July 2017. He never again practiced with the Seahawks and was eventually waived by the team in March.

That seemed to be the end of it for McDowell with the Seahawks.

But the team then sued McDowell in May alleging he has not repaid $799,238 in bonus money that an arbitrator ordered him to. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan — McDowell is a native of Detroit who played at Michigan State.

The Seahawks initially attempted to reclaim all of McDowell’s signing bonus of $3.198 million. Negotiations between the team, McDowell and the NFL Players Association resulted in an agreement that McDowell would forfeit half — $1,599,238. Seattle had already paid McDowell three installments of the bonus, so to make good on the agreement McDowell had to repay $799,238 while Seattle simply had not made the final payment.

McDowell was allowed to keep $1,598,476, with the arbitrator essentially ruling McDowell had to repay the bonus for the 2019 and 2020 seasons — he was still officially on Seattle’s roster for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The bonus was part of a standard four-year rookie contract that could have paid him up to $6.9 million.

As for the new legal charges, DetroitNews.com reported that on Feb. 18 a police officer  “spotted McDowell spinning out in a Jeep Grand Cherokee and attempted to question him.” His attorney told the paper that McDowell “demanded that a supervisor be called to the scene and when the officer said none was available, McDowell exited the car and walked to a nearby gas station, where he and the officer got into a confrontation.”

The officer and McDowell are alleged to have “wrestled” inside the station with McDowell said to have gotten “the better of the battle” even though he was shocked with a taser. When another officer arrived McDowell was subdued and handcuffed and taken into custody.

The paper reported further that McDowell was convicted of drunken driving in 2018 in Royal Oak (Mich.) so a new conviction of operating while intoxicated could result in a stiffer sentence.

As for the truck, DetroitNews.com said McDowell told police he did not know the truck was stolen and had purchased it for $3,000 from a man on Linwood in Detroit but did not know the name of the man. The paper reported the trucks were equipped with GPS devices, one of which led officers with the Oakland County sheriff’s auto theft unit to a closed garage at McDowell’s Southfield address.

After McDowell was released, he had a visit with the Cowboys in March, with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, saying at the NFL league meetings later that month that McDowell had been cleared to return to play football by an independent doctor.ADVERTISING

McDowell, though, was not signed by the Cowboys and has not been reported to have any further visits.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the league meetings the team did not feel McDowell would ever be cleared medically to play football.

“The doctors wouldn’t let him play,” Carroll said in March.  “…He had an accident that he was injured and they couldn’t clear him.”

McDowell took to Twitter on June 1 to dispute that he was not medically fit to play saying the Seahawks “had their own reasoning” for not clearing him while questioning the legitimacy of the doctor used by the Seahawks. That doctor, Samuel R. Browd, is the Medical Director of Seattle Children’s Sports Concussion Program and the Director of the Sports Institute at UW Medicine and serves as an unaffiliated neurological consultant to the NFL and an independent neurological consultant to the Seattle Seahawks. (Among the reported investors in VICIS helmets are Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin). https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/report-former-seahawk-malik-mcdowell-facing-charges-of-truck-theft-fighting-with-police-in-michigan/

Fugitive of the Week wanted on driving while impaired by drugs charges

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — This week’s Fugitive of the Week is wanted on two felony county court bench warrants for driving while impaied by drugs.

Carrie Phalen, also known as Carrie Riccardi and Carrie Mayhoefer, was arrested twice in 2017 on charges of driving while impaired by drugs.

Her first arrest in July 2017 was by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s office after a volunteer fireman observed her swerving all over the road. When Phalen pulled into a gas station, the volunteer fireman pinned her vehicle in until authorities arrived.

Phalen’s second arrest came in October 2017 by the New York State Police on the same charges.

Phalen was placed on probation, which was violated in January of 2018.

Phalen is described at 5’3” and 103 pounds with blond hair and green eyes.

If you know of her whereabouts, give the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Tip Line a call at (315) 435-3032. https://www.localsyr.com/news/local-news/fugitive-of-the-week-wanted-on-driving-while-impaired-by-drugs-charges/

Emotions run high during jury selection for alleged drunk driver in fatal Darien hit-and-run accident

Prospective jurors expressed how difficult it may be to remain fair and impartial during jury selection today in Genesee County Court for the trial of 48-year-old Jennifer L. Serrano (booking photo above).

The Irving, Chautauqua County, resident is accused of driving while intoxicated and killing 18-year-old Connor Arthur Lynskey, of Hinckley, in a fatal hit-and-run accident Aug. 11 on Sumner Road in Darien.

After a tense selection process today, 12 jurors and four alternates were chosen to be impaneled.

Defense attorney Frank LoTempio was overpowered by the voices of multiple juror candidates when he asked a group of 18 prospective jurors whether their personal emotions would interfere with their deliberations.

A few potential jurors admitted they did not feel comfortable swearing under oath to remain objective due to the highly sensitive nature of the case. Particularly, candidates were unsettled by the expert testimony that defense counsel is anticipated to bring forward. It may allege Lynskey was intoxicated, and either walking or running in the lane of traffic when he was struck.

Lynskey had attended a Jason Aldean country music concert with friends and family at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center before he was killed. After the concert, the group started on foot back to its campsite at Darien Lakes State Park campground.

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office report of the accident indicated Lynskey had decided to run ahead to catch up with a friend. 

When family members and friends returned to the campsite, they realized Lynskey was missing.

Law enforcement searched the area that night, but did not find him. His body was discovered the next morning in a ditch by the side of the road.

That same night he went missing, Serrano had been stopped by a deputy and charged with driving while under the influence.

The alleged hit-and-run may have occurred approximately 30 minutes before her DWI arrest. By following leads, investigators identified her as a suspect in the fatal accident.

Some juror candidates said they could not justify drinking and driving under any circumstances, if that is in fact the cause of the fatal accident. Others said they would struggle to fulfill their roles as fact-finders due to parenthood or connections with loved ones who have been affected by drunk driving before.

Judge Charles Zambito intervened in the tense discussion by reminding prospective jurors that to prove Serrano guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, they must rely on evidence that indicates she drove while intoxicated and, as a result, operated her vehicle in a manner that caused Lynskey’s death. 

Serrano is also charged with leaving the scene of personal injury accident without reporting it and aggravated unlicensed operation of her vehicle.

Reportedly, Serrano may have driven on Aug. 12 while aware that her New York driver’s license was revoked by authorities, based on her refusal to submit to a chemical test.

She faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Above all, Zambito urged jurors to set aside feelings while reaching a verdict, in his words, “based on laws and facts.”

Opening arguments will begin at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday in Genesee County Court. https://www.thebatavian.com/lauren-leone/emotions-run-high-during-jury-selection-for-alleged-drunk-driver-in-fatal-darien-hit