Drugged driver who killed 3 didn’t know he took fentanyl, lawyer says
The Sussex County SUV driver accused of being high on drugs in a deadly crash that killed three people at a Wayne gas station was unaware that he had taken fentanyl, according to his attorney.
A father, his teen son and a station attendant all died in the wreck along Route 23 on Feb. 19 when 29-year-old Jason Vanderee plowed into the station.
The Vernon resident has said that he does not remember the crash.
Vanderee faces three counts of aggravated manslaughter, death by auto and death by auto while driving intoxicated within 1,000 feet of school property as well as drug-related offenses including possession of hypodermic needles.
Attorney John Latoracca said he has filed notice of his intent to pursue an involuntary intoxication defense in the event of trial.
Latoracca said the defense is based on his client's unknowing ingestion of fentanyl, which was found in Vanderee's blood/urine samples and chemical analysis of the heroin that police recovered from his Honda Pilot following the crash.
Jon Warbeck, of Fair Lawn, and his 17-year-old son, Luke, a Boonton High School Junior, were killed along with 22-year-old Lovedeep Fatra, of Pequannock.
Vanderee is due back in Passaic County Superior Court on July 15 for a status conference.
He has a long history of driving while intoxicated and heroin-related offenses. They range from a 2016 arrest for heroin possession (downgraded in Municipal Court), a 2017 DWI offense that led to his license being suspended for several months, and at least four accidents in 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
According to the DEA, fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, now are the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths. In 2017, 59% of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
More from New Jersey 101.5: