Autistic NJ man wasn’t forced to jump into ocean, prankster’s attorney says
MANASQUAN — An autistic man was offered several choices before he chose to jump off a jetty into the freezing ocean as part of a prank, an attorney for one of the alleged pranksters said in municipal court Tuesday.
Attorney Jason Volet said during opening statements that Parker Drake, of Howell, refused to eat a hamster for money or walk into the ocean from the beach for two packs of cigarettes. Instead, he said the 20-year-old decided to jump from the jetty for the cigarettes and $20.
"He wanted the extra money and he went in off the jetty," Volet, who represents Nicholas Formica, NJ.com reported.
Formica and Christopher Tilton, both of Howell, are charged with endangering the welfare of an incompetent person, an offense punishable by up to six months in jail. The 21-year-olds are accused of coaxing Drake to jump from the jetty in Manasquan in February 2015 and posting a video of the prank on social media.
Drake, a diabetic, has said that after the plunge, his insulin pump froze and he feared he would drown, according to NJ.com.
The case led lawmakers to increase the penalty for endangering people with developmental disabilities.
Drake's psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Ganime, said Drake has Tourette's syndrome and autism spectrum disorder with Asperger's characteristics, as well as learning and adjustment disorders. He told Attorney Anthony Vecchio, who is prosecuting the case, that people with autism often don't know when they're being swindled.
"People with autism spectrum disorder fall short of that social intelligence," he said, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Ganime, when questioned by Tilton's attorney, Alton Kenney, said Drake is unable to make medical or financial decisions and is not fully aware when he's in a dangerous situation.
Drake is "easily taken advantage of by other people," Ganime said.
The case revolves around whether Drake is incompetent and unable to care for himself, Volet said.
He said he doesn't think Drake's "difficulties" are sufficient to conclude Drake was incompetent at the time.
The trial is expected to continue next month.