The 24-year-old former Mountain Lakes man responsible for the death of a Kentucky family of three in a fiery drunk-driving crash on Route 80 was sentenced on Friday to 21 years in prison.
Bhavuk Uppal was sentenced to three consecutive terms of seven years each for the deaths of Edward Russell Hitt, 24, Briana Mae Anderson, 21, and their 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte Regan Hitt, all of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, on July 11, 2015.
The family had been returning from a visit to New York, driving through the night so their daughter could sleep, when Uppal's Cadillac Escalade plowed into their Kia at about 100 miles per hour.
The family's Kia burst into flames after the crash and all three were pronounced dead at the scene. Anderson was later found to have been nearly five months pregnant.
Uppal, who pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree vehicular homicide this past October, admitted to drinking two double-shots of whiskey before getting behind the wheel. Authorities have said Uppal failed to notice or brake for the family's Kia stopped in front of him in a construction zone at 2 a.m.
Uppal's attorney, Richard Potter, said at sentencing his client had been self-medicating his depression following his parents' divorce with drugs and alcohol.
"Mr. Uppal did a horrible thing, but he isn't a horrible person," Potter said. "He's actually a good person."
Both the Chief Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Troiano and Judge Stephen Taylor pointed out Uppal had had numerous run-ins with the law as a juvenile and had an "atrocious driving record." As Troiano pointed out, Uppal racked up more violations in the five years he had a driver's license than many people would in a lifetime.
Records obtained by NJ Advance Media in 2016 showed Uppal had his license suspended 12 times and had received 19 motor vehicle violations between 2012 and 2014. Those included three for speeding, two for unsafe operation of a motor vehicle and one charge for reckless driving.
Four people spoke up for Uppal including his mother, Suman, who expressed remorse and begged the Anderson and Hitt families for forgiveness.
"I spoke my heart what I needed to say," Uppal's mother said after the sentencing. "We feel so much remorse, regret and pain for the family (of Hitt and Anderson). The pain will never go away but I hope they're able to forgive my son."
Anderson's younger sister, Candyce Gordon, said her sister's death "took away the soul and glue of our family."
"We as a family were robbed of so many special moments," she said, including seeing Charlotte grow up and the birth of Anderson and Hitt's son.
In his sentencing argument, Troiano said he wasn't sure whether Uppal felt true remorse or was just sorry he was caught.
Uppal said he was "sick and ashamed" over his actions and the heartache he'd caused to the families of Anderson and Hitt along with his own.
"None of them deserve the phone call that broke their hearts that day," he said of the Andersons and Hitts.
Taylor in his sentencing agreed with the prosecution's arguments seeking consecutive sentences due to the degree of recklessness Uppal demonstrated. Specifically, he pointed out, Uppal drove while intoxicated, with a suspended license and at excessive speed. Uppal, he said, also had a hypodermic syringe in his car despite repeated treatments for substance abuse.
"At some point, he'll be released from prison and reunited with his family," Taylor said. "(But for the Anderson and Hitt families) their loss will remain in perpetuity."
Uppal must serve 85 percent of his sentence -- nearly 18 years in prison --before he'll be eligible for parole. Upon his release, he'll be subject to three years of supervised parole and have his driver's license suspended for 10 years. He'll also receive credit for 874 days he's already served in jail.
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