By Megan Gray
Portland Press Herald
BANGOR — A man facing federal charges in a fatal crash is asking a judge to throw out a state-mandated blood alcohol test because the accident happened in Acadia National Park.
Praneeth Manubolu has been indicted on three counts of manslaughter, two counts of operating under the influence and one count of unsafe operation. He was driving a car on the Park Loop Road in the early hours of Aug. 31 when it rolled over and crashed into trees, killing his three passengers.
Manubolu is charged in federal court because the crash took place in a national park. Maine law requires a blood draw for any driver in an accident with serious injury or death, and court documents show the investigating officers arranged the blood draw at Mount Desert Island Hospital even though Manubolu did not consent.
It is not clear what the specific result of that blood test was, but defense attorney Walter McKee filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Bangor to suppress it, arguing that the state law should not apply because the crash took place in Acadia.
“Manubolu’s blood never should have been forcibly taken from him, and certainly not by a person who had no authority to do so,” McKee wrote in the motion.
In an email, McKee said the motion is clear cut. “This was a straight-up violation of federal law. A warrantless blood draw in a federal criminal case without consent will never pass muster and it sure won’t here,” he said.
The government has not yet filed a response to the motion. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff, who is the spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Maine, declined to speak about the case.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people suspected of drunken driving cannot automatically be subjected to a blood test. But the justices said each case needs to be considered individually, so law enforcement officers do still have the option to draw blood without a warrant in exigent circumstances.
McKee pointed to that federal ruling in the motion filed in Maine, saying the National Park Service generally stopped requiring blood tests at that time. He argued the federal regulations take precedence over the state law in this case because the crash took place inside the park, and the police officer was not authorized to request the blood test because he was from a local department and not a federal law enforcement officer or a National Park Service employee.
In the Acadia National Park case, an affidavit shows Manubolu called 911 to report the crash at 2:47 a.m. on Aug. 31. He later told police that the group of four friends had been out drinking in Bar Harbor, which is just outside the park. The affidavit notes that he smelled like alcohol.
“Praneeth Manubolu stated that his friends wanted him to drive as he felt he could,” Brian Dominy, an officer for the National Park Service, wrote in the affidavit.
But a police report attached to the defense motion to suppress the test results does not mention that Manubolu smelled like alcohol. Bar Harbor police Officer Jerrod Hardy, who was one of the first on the scene of the crash, spoke with Manubolu and rode in the ambulance with him to Mound Desert Island Hospital. At one point, Hardy said Manubolu told him he had two shots of liquor at midnight.
At the hospital, Hardy asked Manubolu whether he would consent to a blood draw. When Manubolu said no, the officer told him the blood draw was required under state law in accidents with serious injury or death. Manubolu said he understood, and a nurse took a blood sample. None of the documents filed with the court says whether that sample was tested or what the results were, but one of the charges in the indictment alleges Manubolu was driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 percent, which is the legal limit under federal and state law.
Manubolu was 28 and living in New Jersey at the time of the crash. Court documents show he was released on bail, and his conditions of release allow for home detention. Earlier this month, the judge amended those conditions to allow him to move to Georgia for a new job.
It is not clear how long the court will take to rule on the motion to suppress.