A driver charged in a highway crash that killed three people last summer denied being under the influence of alcohol and narcotics and said he had taken his eyes off the road to get a cigarette, authorities said.
Bhavuk Uppal, 24, Mountain Lakes, was indicted by Morris County prosecutors in May on three counts of aggravated manslaughter and other charges. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last week.
Authorities have said Uppal was speeding when he slammed into a car in front of him in the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 in Rockaway Township on July 11, killing the three people and injuring two others in a chain reaction crash.
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At the time of the crash, authorities said, a sport utility vehicle and a car had been stopped in traffic when Uppal's SUV came up from behind and hit the car. The car then struck the SUV in front of it and became engulfed in flames.
The three people who died were in the car. They were a young couple from Louisville, Kentucky, and their infant daughter.
The two people who were injured were in the SUV in front of it. Uppal also was hurt; he was treated at a hospital for unspecified injuries.
The indictment also charged Uppal with offenses including death by auto, death caused while driving with a suspended license and assault by auto.
In an arrest affidavit filed in the case, a state trooper said he had brief contact with Uppal after the crash and did not smell alcohol. However, an EMT smelled alcohol while treating him at the scene, according to the affidavit.
Uppal also was allegedly ``combative and uncooperative'' with police and medical personnel prior to being transported to a hospital. Troopers also made a visual inspection of Uppal's car to see if other occupants might be in it and observed a hypodermic needle on the passenger seat, the affidavit said.
About two hours after the crash occurred, a state Superior Court judge authorized a warrant to draw blood from Uppal, the affidavit said.