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Federal appeals court hears arguments in fatal Acadia crash case

Federal prosecutors appealed an August 2020 ruling that threw out blood tests taken following the 2019 crash

BOSTON — Prosecutors argued Monday that a federal court judge erred when he ruled that results of a blood test were unconstitutional and could not be used as evidence in the manslaughter trial of a New Jersey man.

Praneeth Manubolu, a foreign national from India who lives in Edgewater, New Jersey, is charged with three counts of manslaughter in the Aug. 31, 2019, crash on the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park.

Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Zeeshan Mohammed, 27, all of New York City, all passengers in a car driven by Manubolu, were killed in the crash.

Manubolu was charged with three counts of manslaughter.

Prosecutors said Manubolu told police he had two shots of whiskey at dinner, and that officers at the scene of the crash said they smelled alcohol on his breath and his eyes were bloodshot.

Following the crash, Manubolu's blood sample was taken at Mount Desert Hospital although he had not consented and police had not obtained a search warrant.

Court documents indicate Manubolu was at first hesitant to and then said he didn’t want to give a blood sample, but the officer advised him the law required it.

His attorney, Walter McKee, argued in court documents, "Manubolu's blood never should have been forcibly taken from him, and certainly not by a person who had no authority to do so."

In August 2020, a federal court judge agreed with defense attorneys that the blood test was unconstitutional and ruled the results could not be introduced as evidence in the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Lipez argued before the 1st District Circuit Appeals Court that exigent circumstances allowing for a warrantless blood draw did exist that night. She said Manubolu's blood alcohol levels were dissipating and emergency medical personnel advised police that Manubolu needed to be taken to the hospital.  She said police prioritized these safety concerns and did not stop at the Bar Harbor police station for a breathalyzer test.

Lipez said obtaining a search warrant for the blood test would have taken three to five hours, making the results less reliable.

To questions about why the officers didn't call a magistrate directly and why several different assistant U.S, attorneys didn't answer their phones that night, Lipez said the warrant process usually works but the exigent circumstances exception exists for when it doesn't.

McKee said his client's injuries were minor, and that with so many officers and emergency personnel at the scene and the roads closed, there was no risk that evidence would be lost, and that the sole responding federal officer could have left the secure scene to get a warrant.

McKee said Manubolu wasn't rushed to the hospital for injuries, but taken for an assessment, and could have been taken to the police station for a breathalyzer.

However, Lipez said that while his injuries were minor, because of the three deaths and the severity of the crash, there was concern that Manubolu was in shock and could have internal injuries.