Tag: driving while intoxicated

Sean Bennett pleads guilty to vehicular homicide for fatal Metairie collision, gets 17-year sentence

A Jefferson Parish judge on Thursday (Aug. 3) sentenced Sean Bennett to 17 years in prison, after he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of illegal narcotics when he caused a collision that killed a woman, injured her husband and injured another motorist in Metairie last year.

Bennett, 27, of Poplarville, Miss., pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide for causing the death of Lyn Garnett, 75, of New Orleans.

He separately pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular negligent injury, and to driving with a suspended driver’s license. Garnett’s 72-year-old husband was injured, as was the 72-year-old driver of another vehicle.

Bennett had been using cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine when he was traveling north on Causeway Boulevard in a 2016 Nissan Altima at 105 mph on the morning of April 16, 2022.

As he approached the vehicles stopped at the red light at West Esplanade Avenue at 10:39 a.m., Bennett drove into Causeway’s dedicated right-turn lane to bypass the congestion.

He proceeded into the eastbound lane of West Esplanade, where his car collided with a 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe driven by a 72-year-old Westwego man.

After that collision, Bennett’s car fishtailed and spun out of control and into the westbound lanes of West Esplanade. His car then collided with the Garnetts’ 2000 Chrysler Voyager.

The event data recorder in Bennett’s vehicle showed his car was moving at 103 mph when it collided with the Garnett’s vehicle. At no time did Bennett apply his brakes as he ran the red light or after the collisions.

The Garnetts’ vehicle struck a traffic signal light post. Bennett’s car struck a tree and then a different traffic signal light post.

Lyn Garnett was rushed to a hospital and underwent emergency surgery. She died from her injuries on June 7, 2022. Her husband also was transported to a hospital for treatment.

The 72-year-old Westwego man was treated on the scene and then traveled to a hospital on his own.

At a hospital, Bennett told Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators that he was hallucinating and thinking that someone was seeking his family to hurt them. So, he was rushing to his family, he asserted. He later pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

In accepting his guilty pleas Thursday, and after hearing victim-impact testimony from numerous witnesses, 24th Judicial District Judge Shayna Beevers Morvant sentenced Bennett to 17 years in prison for the vehicular homicide and six months for each of the three misdemeanor charges. She ran the sentences concurrently.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Whitworth prosecuted the case.


Olivia Matte sentenced to 20 years for DWI fatality on Causeway bridge

A Jefferson Parish judge on Thursday (Nov. 15) sentenced Olivia Matte to 20 years in prison for causing the death of a Mississippi man while she was driving drunk on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway last year.

Matte, 28, of Covington, who had remained free on bond since pleading guilty on Sept. 4, surrendered Thursday to begin serving her sentence.

James Blackmond, 37, of Foxworth, Miss., was driving his pick-up south on the Causeway early on the morning of March 23, 2017, when Matte drove into the rear of his truck about three miles north of the south shore. Blackmond was killed and his passenger was injured.

Matte had a blood-alcohol content of .216, close to three times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. On Sept. 4, she pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide, vehicular negligent injuring, operating a vehicle with a suspended driver’s license and failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.

At her attorney’s request, Judge Glenn Ansardi of the 24th Judicial District Court ordered a presentence investigation on Sept. 4 and allowed Matte to remain free on bond until her sentencing.

After hearing impact testimony from witnesses on both sides of the matter, Judge Ansardi sentenced Matte to six months for the negligent injuring, six months for driving with a suspended license, 90 days for careless operation and 20 years for the vehicular homicide. He ran the sentences concurrently.

Assistant District Attorneys Joshua Vanderhooft and Richard Olivier prosecuted the case.

Olivia Matte pleads guilty as charged to fatal DWI crash, awaits sentencing

A Jefferson Parish judge on Tuesday (Sept. 4) ordered a presentencing investigation after Olivia Matte pleaded guilty to causing the death of a Mississippi man as a result of driving while intoxicated on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway last year.

On what was scheduled to be her trial date, Matte, 28, of Covington, pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide, a felony, in the March 23, 2017 death of James Blackmond, 37, of Foxworth, Miss.

Matte also pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular negligent injuring, involving Blackmond’s 44-year-old passenger; failing to maintain control of a motor vehicle; and operating a vehicle while her driver’s license was suspended. Those charges are misdemeanors.

Matte’s blood-alcohol content was .216, close to three times higher than the legal limit to drive in Louisiana.

In accepting her guilty plea, Judge Glenn Ansardi of the 24th Judicial District Court granted Matte’s attorney’s request for a presentence investigation. Judge Ansardi allowed Matte to remain free on bond, denying the prosecutors’ request that she be remanded to jail while awaiting her sentencing.

Judge Ansardi will announce Matte’s sentence on Nov. 15.

Assistant District Attorneys Joshua Vanderhooft and Richard Olivier prosecuted the case.

Gretna man pleads guilty, gets 20 years for killing Carnival float driver while driving drunk

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.

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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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