Jury will hear that NJ driver in triple-fatal crash had prior heroin DWI
A judge has ruled that prosecutors in the trial of a man charged in a triple-fatal crash at a Wayne gas station last year won't be allowed to use the defendant's statements to investigators because he wasn't in any condition to voluntarily waive his rights when questioned.
Jason Van De Ree, 30, of Glenwood, 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. Jon Warbeck, 50, and his 17-year-old son were killed along with 22-year-old gas station attendant Lovedeep Fatra, while occupants of two vehicles had minor injuries. Passaic County prosecutors say nine bags of heroin and a needle were found in the car.
Police argued that the defendant was coherent when he was read his rights while sitting in a hospital bed hours after the crash. But Superior Court Judge Ernest Caposela on Friday cited testimony that Van De Ree "appeared to slip in and out of consciousness" when a Wayne detective read him his Miranda rights.
The judge ruled, however, that prosecutors will be allowed to cite Van De Ree's prior conviction of driving under the influence of heroin. He ruled they can also use his alleged statements to paramedics and the doctor who treated him at the hospital.
Authorities say Van De Ree crashed into a guardrail on I-80 west in Fairfield in November 2016 and was found unconscious behind the wheel with empty bags of heroin and a used syringe in the car. Authorities said he had to be revived with naloxone — which reverses the effects of opioid overdoses — as was the case in last year's crash.
Defense attorney John Latoracca had sought dismissal of the indictment, arguing that telling the grand jury of the prior conviction was prejudicial. The judge, however, said the earlier accident was "similar in kind" and "reasonably close in time" to the current offense. Latoracca acknowledged that the ruling was a “significant blow" to the defense.
Last summer, Van De Ree rejected a plea deal of 30 years in prison in exchange for guilty pleas to the three aggravated manslaughter counts and the proviso that he serve 25½ years before being eligible for parole. NJ.com reports that despite the ruling, Latoracca said his client wouldn't reconsider the deal unless the prison time is reduced.