Grand Isle fisherman who crashed boat into shrimp dock sentenced to 20 years in prison for DUI

A Grand Isle commercial fisherman with six actual convictions of driving under the influence was sentenced on Friday (May 6) to 20 years in prison for his most recent DUI conviction.

Rockey Burnham, 44, was convicted as charged of his second fourth-offense DUI on April 20. Fourth-offense DUI is the most serious offense available to prosecutors under Louisiana law. Burnham was arrested on April 28, 2015, after he crashed a boat he was piloting into moored vessels and the shrimp dock owned by Dean Blanchard Seafood.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigated the boat wreck, while the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries handled the DUI investigation. The state agents concluded that Burnham did poorly on the field sobriety test, leading to blood work that yielded the presence of diazepam, nordiazepam and methamphetamine, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Fourth-offense DUI conviction carries a sentence of 10 years to 30 years in prison. After denying defense requests to toss out the conviction and to order a new trial, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court opted for the 20-year sentence, to be served without the benefit of parole, probation or suspended sentence.

Judge Regan also told Burnham that he would recommend access to substance abuse programs in prison, “so that when you get out you don’t find yourself in the same situation you’re in today.”

Because he was on probation at the time of his arrest in this last case, Burnham faces an additional seven years if his probation is revoked. Five of those years are tied to a previous DUI conviction, while two are from a narcotics possession conviction. If his probation is revoked, Burnham would face the seven-year sentence in addition to the 20 years he received on Friday.

Burnham denied the latest charges. He alleged the boat he was maneuvering suffered from mechanical problems and that Wildlife and Fisheries agents did little to no investigating. The Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about 40 minutes in finding him guilty as charged.

His last conviction before this year’s was in 2011, for an arrest a year earlier for driving a trawler without authorization while under the influence of alcohol and crystal methamphetamine, crashing it into a dock. He pleaded guilty to DUI, unauthorized use of a movable and simple criminal damage to property.

As part of the plea arrangement in that case, a judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison but suspended five of those years in ordering five years of probation. Burnham also was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

He also was sentenced to two years in prison in 2011, for two narcotics-related offenses. He separately has DUI convictions in East Baton Rouge and Lafourche parishes, in addition to Jefferson Parish convictions.

Assistant District Attorneys Lynn Schiffman and Marko Marjanovic prosecuted the case.

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