Defense: Man accused of killing 3 people in NJ gas station crash wasn’t in condition to waive rights after crash

PATERSON, N.J. — A defense attorney is arguing that a man whose car crashed into a New Jersey gas station earlier this year, killing three people, wasn’t in any condition to voluntarily waive his rights when questioned.

Jason Vanderee, 29, was arrested after he allegedly crashed into a car at a New Jersey gas station, killing three, on Feb. 19, 2019.

Jason Vanderee of Glenwood in Sussex County is charged with aggravated manslaughter and death by auto while intoxicated in the Feb. 19 crash at a Delta gas station on Route 23. Jon Warbeck, 50, and his 17-year-old son were killed along with 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 say Vanderee was coherent when he was read his rights while sitting in a hospital bed hours after the crash. But a detective said he appeared under the influence of drugs, at one point bowing his head and appearing to nod off, NorthJersey.com reported.

Defense attorney John Latoracca suggested that means his client wasn’t clear-headed enough to understand the warning. Latoracca said blood and urine samples are not definitive proof of intoxication but only denote the presence of drugs in a person’s system.

Det. Michael Polifrone, the Wayne police officer who read him his rights about two hours after the crash, testified Friday that the suspect was sitting up in his hospital bed and appeared alert. He said Vanderee asked whether there were any victims of the crash and allowed that he had recently relapsed, saying “he was going through a tough time.”

A paramedic testified that she saw what appeared to be a fresh needle mark on his arm and the suspect revived when given naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. She said he appeared “very confused” and answered “I don’t know” when asked “How much heroin have you used today?” She acknowledged under cross-examination, however, that he never told her he used drugs that day.

The judge agreed to a request from both sides to order St. Joseph’s Medical Center to supply all the medical records of Vanderee’s hospital stay.

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