Defense argues driver in deadly crash was too high to understand rights

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The defense attorney for a driver accused of crashing into a Passaic County gas station, killing three people, wasn't in any condition to voluntarily waive his rights when questioned.

Jason Vanderee is charged with aggravated manslaughter and death by auto while intoxicated in the Feb. 19 crash at a Delta gas station on Route 23 in Wayne that killed 50-year-old Jon Warbeck, his 17-year-old son Luke and gas station attendant Lovedeep Fatra. Passaic County prosecutors say heroin and a needle were found in the vehicle.

While handcuffed inside St. Joseph's Hospital, Vanderee was questioned by a detective who had a warrant for blood and urine.

Defense attorney John Latoracca would not agree to be interviewed on camera but told News 12 New Jersey that he questions if Vanderee was clear-headed enough after the crash to understand his Miranda Rights. He says that he is arguing a motion that what his client may have said at the time should not be admissible in court.

Criminal defense attorney Ken Vercammen is not involved in this case but tells News 12 that he thinks that the defense could win the motion.

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"In court, someone wouldn't be permitted to plead guilty to something if they were under the influence,” he says. “How can you waive something that you don't really understand what's going on?"

At a previous court hearing, Detective Michael Polifrone testified that Vanderee was sitting up in bed and alert. But also noted he appeared high on drugs and seemed to nod off.

"Typically, smart, coherent people would say ‘No, I’m not going to waive my rights so I can get to go to prison for many years,’” Vercammen says.

The judge will also need to rule on if comments Vanderee made to an EMT and a doctor will they be allowed at trial.

Vercammen says that Miranda Rights only apply to law enforcement officers.

“Probably the defendant has a loser as far as trying to keep out anything he said to the EMT,” Vercammen says.

Vercammen says medical records will help the judge make the ruling. Those records will be able to show what the Vanderee may have been high on and how extreme that high was. It'll also show what he may have been given by the hospital staff. Those records have been requested from the hospital.

Vanderee’s next court date will be in November. The judge will have to decide if he'll allow jurors to hear evidence of a crash Vanderee was involved in back in 2016 on Route 80.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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