A citizen of India who crashed his car in Acadia National Park, killing three passengers inside, could end up spending eight years or less behind bars for their deaths.
Praneeth Manubolu, 30, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to three counts of manslaughter, two counts of drunken driving and one count of unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The maximum period of incarceration on each of the three Class D manslaughter charges he pleaded to is eight years.
He also faces up to six months behind bars for each of the three other charges, and could be fined up to $250,000 on each of the six total charges. His sentence will also include up to three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison, federal prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock will have to consider whether Manubolu should serve the sentence for each charge one after the other or all at the same time, according to federal sentencing guidelines. Unlike other federal cases in which a firearm is used or in which there is a drawn out sequence of criminal acts, there is no sentencing requirement for Manubolu to serve consecutive terms.
Manubolu initially faced three Class A manslaughter charges, which would have carried a potential prison sentence of up to 30 years for each charge, but the charges were modified a month after the accident. The class D charge is used in federal involuntary manslaughter cases and carries a much lower prison sentence.
“Praneeth has fully accepted responsibility for his decisions that fateful night, and we are totally focused on sentencing now,” his defense attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said Tuesday.
McKee declined to comment on what kind of sentence Manubolu might receive.
Manubolu was driving his 2019 Dodge Challenger at 76 mph in a 25 mph zone on the Park Loop Road when the car veered out of control at around 2:45 a.m. and slammed into a tree near the trailhead of the Gorge Path, park officials have said. The three passengers in the car — Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Mohammad Zeeshan, 27, all of New York City — were dead when police arrived roughly 10 minutes later.
The group had traveled to Mount Desert Island the day before from metro New York City to go hiking in Acadia as part of a weekend gathering arranged through the app Meetup.
They had been drinking at a bar in Bar Harbor about 90 minutes before the crash and, roughly 90 minutes after it occurred, Manubolu had a blood-alcohol content of 0.095 percent — higher than the legal limit of 0.08 percent, park rangers said.
Manubolu’s attorneys had sought to bar the blood results from a possible trial, saying that the blood sample had been taken improperly because police had not first obtained a warrant to collect that evidence. Woodcock agreed with the defense attorneys and ruled that the blood test results were inadmissible as evidence, but last fall that decision was overturned on appeal, which would have allowed a jury to be given the test results if the case had gone to trial.
McKee said that his client “would have been in a very different position” had Woodcock’s decision to bar the blood test results been upheld on appeal.
“But that is water under the bridge now,” the defense attorney said.
Raphaelle Silver, a federal prosecutor handling the case, declined to comment.
Manubolu entered the pleas Monday remotely by video from Atlanta, where he has been living since he bailed out of jail three weeks after his arrest. As part of his bail conditions, he had to surrender his Indian passport to federal prosecutors to ensure that he did not leave the country.
But he faces potential deportation from the United States after is released from prison, according to McKee.
“A definite possibility, if not probability, once he serves his sentence,” he said.
Manubolu’s sentencing, which is expected to be conducted in person in Bangor rather than by remote video link, has not yet been scheduled but is expected to happen sometime this spring.