This story originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2003 edition of the Inquirer.
A man accused of killing three McDonald's workers by crashing his car into the restaurant told detectives afterward that he did so because pressures in life had reached the point where he had "decided to end it. "
In a taped statement from his hospital bed, Frank R. Nastasi of Haddon Heights told detectives he "wasn't thinking clearly" when he pointed his wife's car at the Mount Ephraim restaurant and floored the accelerator about 4 a.m. on May 15, 2002.
"I just said, 'Screw it. This is it. Nobody loves me. Nobody understands me,' " Nastasi said on the tape, which was made public for the first time yesterday when it was played during a hearing in state Superior Court.
"My main intent basically was to end my life," Nastasi said on the tape.
Although he survived, the crash killed three late-shift workers at the restaurant - Cynthia Molino, 45, and Joanne Marie Bowen, 52, both of Mount Ephraim; and Nancy King, 49, of Audubon.
Nastasi told detectives he did not know that anyone was inside. "I would have never [driven] into the building if there were people in it," he said on the tape.
An accident-reconstruction team calculated that the car hit the McDonald's at a speed of 96 to 111 m.p.h.
Nastasi, 53, is charged with three counts of aggravated manslaughter.
Prosecutors say that he was attempting suicide and thus under the law was responsible for his actions.
His defense lawyer, Charles Nugent, has argued that Nastasi was insane at the time of the crash and should not be held criminally liable.
The defense lawyer has sought to have the 15-minute statement Nastasi gave to authorities excluded from evidence should the case proceed to trial.
Nugent has raised two issues in connection with the statement. The first issue - whether Nastasi 's statement was given voluntarily and with a clear mind - will be heard Oct. 21.
The second issue - whether the detectives read him his Miranda rights before they questioned him - was considered yesterday.
During a daylong hearing before Superior Court Judge Samuel Natal, Nugent sought to show that authorities should have advised Nastasi of his rights because his freedom to leave the hospital was limited.
Nugent has argued that if Nastasi wasn't free to go - if the detectives believed he was a suspect in a crime - authorities should have read him his rights before they interviewed him.
Nugent tried to make this point while cross-examining John F. Greer, a Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigator who conducted the taped interview. The defense lawyer asked Greer whether he understood beforehand that if Nastasi admitted that he was trying to commit suicide, he would be confessing to a crime.
"I knew that if, in fact, that was the case and could be corroborated, it could result in charges," the detective said.
Nastasi 's wife, Linda, also testified briefly yesterday. She said she believed the deputies posted outside her husband's hospital room were positioned to prevent him from leaving.
Several of the deputies, however, testified that they had been sent to protect Nastasi from the news media and others, not to detain him.
According to Nastasi 's statement and government testimony, the chain of events began before 4 a.m. May 15, 2002.
After dreaming of his father, Nastasi awoke, he told detectives, worried that his father might die. This troubled him because he had not been there when his mother had died years before.
"I felt some guilt," Nastasi said.
Nastasi, Greer testified, told him that he began to drive to his father's house nearby, but decided instead to drive the car into the McDonald's.
Nastasi blamed multiple life stresses for his actions, Greer testified. On the tape, Nastasi cited troubles with his 16-year-old son and his wife; his father's meddling ways and ill health; and 60-hour workweeks at the faltering family business, an Oaklyn furniture store.
After the crash, witnesses said Nastasi calmly got out of his car and tried to walk home. Paramedics described him as alternately "insane and aggressive" and "cooperative and calm. " At Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center, trauma workers wrote that Nastasi seemed "confused" and "psychotic," and that he spoke of "paranormal activity" in his home.
Nastasi, who was free on $375,000 bail, sat at the defense table yesterday but did not speak.
The judge has instructed Nugent and Assistant County Prosecutor James Conley to refrain from commenting publicly on the case. Natal is not expected to rule until the October hearing is completed.
Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 856-779-3897 or firstname.lastname@example.org.