Feds say blood sample taken from driver in Acadia crash that killed 3 is admissible

Courtesy of Acadia National Park
Courtesy of Acadia National Park
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. Praneeth Manubolu, 28, allegedly was driving the vehicle and has been charged with causing the deaths of three passengers who died in the crash, according to park officials.
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Despite a defense attorney’s objections, the results of a blood test taken from a man charged in the deadliest incident ever in Acadia National Park should be allowed as evidence in the manslaughter case against him, federal prosecutors said Monday.
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Despite a defense attorney’s objections, the results of a blood test taken from a man charged in the deadliest incident ever in Acadia National Park should be allowed as evidence in the manslaughter case against him, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The U.S. Attorney’s office argued in a response filed in federal court in Bangor that a blood sample from Praneeth Manubolu, 28, was legally obtained in the hours following a fatal crash in the park over Labor Day weekend — even though Manubolu refused a request from police to submit a sample voluntarily.

Killed in the crash, which occurred in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, were Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Zeeshan Mohammed, 27, all of New York City. Manubolu, a citizen of India who lives in New Jersey, is accused of driving the car under the influence of alcohol and is charged with three counts of manslaughter.

Courtesy of Hancock County Jail
Courtesy of Hancock County Jail
Praneeth Manubolu

Manubolu’s defense attorney, Walter McKee, filed a motion in court in October, arguing that his client’s blood test results were obtained improperly and should be suppressed in the case. The blood sample was drawn by a Bar Harbor police officer who does not have authority to investigate alleged crimes in the federal park, McKee said, and there were no “exigent” circumstances (i.e., pressing time limitations) under which police sometimes can legally take a blood sample from a person without that person’s consent.

In response, federal prosecutors said that the state and federal governments have concurrent jurisdiction over Acadia and that state-certified law enforcement officers are allowed to enforce state law in the park as long as the law being enforced is not in conflict with federal law. The Bar Harbor police officer, they argue, is not prohibited from obtaining evidence — in this case, a blood sample — that might be allowed in a federal criminal case.

Secondly, federal prosecutors argue that there were exigent circumstances in the investigation in part because, had police gone through the process of obtaining a warrant, evidence in the case — namely, Manubolu’s blood-alcohol content — would have been “destroyed” by the natural dissipation of alcohol in the defendant’s bloodstream.

“This was not a routine operating under the influence investigation, and exigent circumstances existed justifying a blood draw to be taken from the defendant without a warrant,” prosecutors wrote.

The legal limit for blood-alcohol content for anyone driving a motor vehicle in Maine, and in Acadia National Park, is 0.08 percent. Manubolu’s blood-alcohol content approximately 90 minutes after the crash was 0.095 percent, according to court documents.

The case is one of several recent cases in Maine and nationally in which the collection of a blood sample from an allegedly impaired driver without their express consent has been challenged in court.

Last month, a state judge in Hancock County threw out the blood test result of an Eastbrook woman charged with manslaughter in a fatal November 2017 crash after he ruled that police had not obtained it properly.

This past summer the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments concerning the admissibility of a blood sample obtained from a trucker from Tennessee who was convicted of causing a 2016 crash that killed two people on Route 17 in the Knox County town of Washington. The court has yet to issue a decision.

Also this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can obtain a blood sample without a warrant from drivers who are unconscious and who are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, or if exigent circumstances require that police obtain a sample quickly.

The crash in Acadia occurred hours after Manubolu and others arrived at Mount Desert Island to camp at Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor and to hike in the park, according to copies of police reports filed in court. The group, which included more than the four people who were in Manubolu’s car when it crashed, had arranged the gathering through an app called Meet Up and had gone to Bar Harbor for food and drinks, first at the Dog & Pony Tavern and then at an unspecified “dance club,” before Manubolu drove off in his Dodge Challenger with his three passengers.

Manubolu has since been released on an unsecured bond of $7,500 on the condition that he await trial at his New Jersey home and wear a location monitoring device. His passport has been confiscated, preventing him from traveling back to India. He can leave his home only for employment, education, medical and legal purposes, and is subject to alcohol testing.

 



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