SOUTH BRUNSWICK - Police believe a driver may have been distracted by a cellphone and failed to stop at a red light, causing a South Brunswick crash that critically injured three people.

The crash happened shortly after 5 a.m. New Year's Day on Route 1 by Deans Lane.

Police say a Nissan Sentra was broadsided by a minivan in the northbound lanes of the highway. The Nissan then crashed into a utility pole.

Five occupants of the Nissan were trapped inside the vehicle, and emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to extricate them. The occupants ranged in age between 12 and 27, and included three family members and two friends, all from Ocean County.

In all, eight people were hospitalized, including occupants of the minivan. Three people, ages 12, 15 and 21 who were in the Nissan remain in critical condition. The others who were hospitalized were treated for injuries that are not considered life-threatening.

Authorities say a preliminary investigation has shown that the driver of the Nissan may have been distracted by a cellphone and ran a red light. There are no indications that alcohol was involved in the crash, according to investigators.

Route 1 was closed for six hours while the crash was investigated and the scene was cleared.