A Gretna man was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday (May 10) after pleading guilty to killing a Carnival float tractor driver in Marrero while driving drunk.
Michael Burrle, 56, pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide and reckless operation of a motor vehicle in connection with the Feb. 7, 2015, collision at Lapalco Boulevard and Paxton Street.
Burrle admitted he caused the death of Don Dauzat, 53, of Westwego, who was driving the tractor he used to pull a float in a Metairie parade the night before.
At the time of the collision, Burrle’s blood-alcohol content was .12 percent, which is 50 percent above the legal limit to drive.
He was speeding westward on Lapalco just before 3 a.m., in a 2001 Ford Explorer, when he ran the red light at Paxton, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Dauzat, meanwhile, was in a convoy of tractors and had just turned onto Lapalco from Paxton when the 2012 John Deere he was driving was struck by Burrle’s sports-utility vehicle. The impact sent the tractor rolling about 70 feet, and Dauzat was ejected.
Dauzat died from his injuries at a hospital later that day. Burrle was arrested at the scene.
Dauzat was among the tractor drivers who pulled floats in the Krewe of Excalibur parade the night before and had just dropped off the floats at a den in Marrero. The drivers, including Dauzat, were driving the tractors in a convoy to a staging area for another parade scheduled for the following night when Burrle caused the fatal collision.
In impact testimony given during the plea hearing Tuesday, Dauzat’s daughter Courtney Dauzat called her father “my protector, comforter, friend and my hero.” She recounted how her father taught her to ride a bike, to “properly cast a fishing pole,” to check the air in her tires and many other things.
“My father taught me a lot about how to have faith in God and how to love others,” she testified. “That night I lost the man who was supposed to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, a day that every daughter looks forward to. I lost the man I felt safest with.
“My father cared for people in such an extraordinary way,” she said. “He always had a glow about him, always smiling, laughing and enjoying his life. I had always looked up to my father and hoped that one day my husband might be half the man my father was.”
Dauzat’s goddaughter, Lindsey Seibert, was among the family and friends who wrote letters to the court. A prosecutor read hers aloud. “Don did what he could to be a protector, a supporter, a husband, a friend, a son, a brother, a dedicated safety coordinator at Monsanto,” Seibert wrote. “He did a damn good job at all of those things and many more.
“We need more people in the world like Don, and unfortunately, we lost one too early that night. His kindness and happiness will live on in our hearts forever, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” Seibert wrote.
In accepting the negotiated pleas, Judge Ray Steib of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Burrle to 20 years in prison for the vehicular homicide and 90 days for the reckless operation offense. Steib additionally ordered Burrle to pay a $2,000 fine.
Assistant District Attorney Angad Ghai prosecuted the case.