Driver charged in Acadia’s deadliest crash sent home to await trial

Acadia National Park photo | BDN
Acadia National Park photo | BDN
A car rests against trees after it rolled and crashed on the Park Loop Road in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.
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Praneeth Manubolu, 28, of Edgewater, New Jersey, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after the crash on Park Loop Road in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 31.
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The New Jersey man accused of killing three passengers after crashing the car he was driving in Acadia National Park over Labor Day weekend will be released from jail while he awaits trial, but will be detained at home and will have to wear a location monitoring device.

Praneeth Manubolu, 28, of Edgewater, New Jersey, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after the crash on Park Loop Road in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 31. He made his second appearance in federal court in Bangor on Friday.

Based on evidence and testimony presented Friday, Magistrate Judge John Nivison found probable cause that Manubolu demonstrated recklessness and criminal negligence, and decided that the case would go to trial.

Meanwhile, Manubolu will be released from jail on conditions that include home detention except for employment, education, medical and legal purposes. He will also have to wear a location monitoring device and will be subjected to alcohol testing.

Since he is not a U.S. citizen, he will also have to surrender his passport, and he will not be allowed to possess or use any weapons, alcohol, narcotic drugs or marijuana.

Manubolu will travel to New Jersey on Friday or Saturday escorted by a family member and will remain there until his next court appearance is announced. A citizen of India, Manubolu will not be allowed to travel outside of New Jersey or leave the country without authorization.

Nivison also ordered Manubolu to pay the unsecured bond amount of $7,500 if he violates any conditions of release.

The three passengers who died in the crash were Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Zeeshan Mohammed, 27, all of New York City, according to Acadia National Park officials. Manubolu had met them while hiking a month prior to the crash, Bar Harbor police Officer Jared Hardy said in court Friday.

Manubolu told police that he and the three passengers had been out drinking in Bar Harbor before the crash, which happened just before 3 a.m., according to court documents.

Bar Harbor police Officer Judson Cake told Nivison on Friday that he arrived on the scene to find Manubolu standing on the side of the road, talking on his cellphone.

Cake tried to administer CPR to the female passenger while Manubolu held the door open. Cake smelled alcohol on Manubolu and noticed his bloodshot eyes, but he did not observe slurred speech or trouble walking, he said.

A blood test at Mount Desert Island showed Manubolu had a blood alcohol level of 0.11, which is higher than the legal limit of 0.08. Manubolu received treatment because Hardy spotted injuries near his eye.

At the scene and in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Manubolu told Hardy that he had consumed two whiskey shots while out drinking. He was also reluctant to leave the crash scene for treatment, Hardy said, because he wanted to stay with his friends.

“He kept saying, I don’t deserve to be medically treated because of what happened to my friends,” Hardy said.

Manubolu’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence for the case to go to trial. There was no evidence of the car’s speed at the time of the crash, he said, and police didn’t administer a field sobriety test at the scene.

“We have an order of alcohol, consumption of alcohol, an accident taking place and then a non-certified blood test showing 0.11 at some point after the accident with no information about what the blood alcohol content was at the time of the accident,” McKee said. “We just don’t believe that the government has met their burden of proof.”

Manubolu is being charged in federal court because the crash occurred at the national park, but he could be subject to Maine’s maximum punishment for a Class A manslaughter conviction, which is 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. If convicted, he could also be deported, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The fatal crash is the deadliest incident on record in Acadia National Park’s 103-year history.

Prior to the crash, the deadliest incident in Acadia occurred on Sept. 20, 1999, when a married couple from Charleston, Maine, drowned at Schoodic Point. Robert Croteau, 51, and Margaret Croteau, 63, were standing near the water watching waves crash on the rocky shore when a large wave swept over them and dragged them in.

The Aug. 31 accident is believed to be the first in Acadia in 25 years in which someone died as a result of alleged drunken driving.

On June 25, 1994, Scott C. Graves, 29, of Northeast Harbor died when a BMW he was driving went off the Park Loop Road near the Jordan Pond House restaurant and rolled, throwing him from the vehicle. At the time, rangers cited alcohol and excessive speed as factors in the accident.

There have been more than 80 fatal incidents in the park since its founding in 1916. Aside from the motor vehicle crash last month and the double drowning in 1999, none has resulted in multiple deaths.

What may be considered the biggest public safety incident in the park occurred on Aug. 23, 2009, when a wave churned up by Hurricane Bill crashed over as many as 20 sightseers gathered along the shore near Thunder Hole, pulling several of them into the water. Some were able to get back onto shore immediately, but three people could not. Two of them were rescued by the Coast Guard not far offshore but Clio Axilrod, 7, of New York City, drowned before she was found.

BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

 



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