Test troubles had charges dropped
The Greensburg man accused of killing five people and injuring another two Wednesday while driving drunk in East Feliciana Parish had a blood-alcohol content almost twice the legal limit, authorities said Friday.
Brett Gerald’s blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent, State Police spokesman Trooper Russell Graham II said. In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving.
Prior to being booked in Wednesday’s fatal wreck, Gerald, 30, 12196 La. 10, Greensburg, was arrested at least three times for drunken driving.
In the first incident, on July 24, 2004, Gerald was accused of falling asleep behind the wheel of a truck stopped at the intersection of two highways in Napoleonville, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said.
A sheriff’s deputy spotted Gerald’s white pickup in the intersection of La. 308 and La. 1008 between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., Waguespack said. The engine was running and the tail lights were on, he said.
The deputy found Gerald “dead asleep” behind the wheel with his foot on the brake and the truck engine in gear, Waguespack said. The deputy woke Gerald up and asked him to perform a field sobriety test.
Gerald performed poorly on the test and refused to take a blood-alcohol breath test, Waguespack said. Gerald was arrested on one count each of first-offense DWI, reckless operation and illegal parking on a highway.
Gerald later completed a pretrial diversion program operated by the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Ricky Babin, elected 23rd Judicial District Attorney in 2009, said defendants must qualify for the pretrial program and those who complete it can try to have the charge expunged from their criminal record. Five years, however, must lapse before a defendant can file such a motion, he said.
Court records available Friday did not reflect whether Gerald sought to expunge his 2004 DWI arrest from his record.
Gerald was arrested again in driving drunk on Aug. 18, 2008, after he allegedly ran several vehicles off a highway in East Feliciana Parish and hit another vehicle before driving away, court records show.
The incident occurred at 7:35 p.m. on La. 67, court records show. The driver of a 2005 Chevrolet pickup that Gerald struck with his 2003 Jeep told authorities she had to swerve to avoid a head-on collision with Gerald, who had crossed the center line of the highway.
Gerald, who was stopped moments later by State Police, told authorities he crossed the center line because a tire blew out, court records show.
However, drivers of other vehicles who were run off the road in that incident told authorities that Gerald drove in the wrong lane of traffic for a long distance.
Gerald told the trooper he was heading home from Zachary when he was stopped, court records show. He said he had been drinking Miller Lite beer at an East Feliciana Parish golf course from around noon until he left to go home early that evening, the court records show.
When the trooper asked Gerald how much beer he had consumed, Gerald responded, “less than a 12-pack.”
Gerald was booked with second-offense DWI, hit-and-run, improper lane usage and careless operation, but East Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla later charged Gerald with first-offense DWI, hit-and-run, improper lane usage and careless operation.
D’Aquilla said he didn’t charge Gerald with second-offense DWI because he was not able to verify that Gerald had been convicted of a first-offense DWI.
D’Aquilla said he later dropped the DWI charge because Gerald refused to perform a Breathalyzer test properly, leaving prosecutors with insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
Gerald pleaded no contest to the reckless operation and hit and run charges and was sentenced to one year of probation.
Two years later, on Aug. 20, 2010, Gerald was arrested and accused of driving drunk for a third time, court records show.
In that incident, a Denham Springs police officer reported that Gerald cut him off then nearly ran off the road, court records show.
Gerald, driving a white Camaro, veered into the police officer’s lane, cutting the officer off, as both made a left turn from La. 190 onto Range, court records show. The officer said Gerald almost ran off Range Avenue after turning onto it.
The officer pulled Gerald over and noticed he had glassy, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, court records show. Gerald told the officer he had left a nearby bar where he drank three or four Miller Lite beers.
Gerald failed a series of field sobriety tests and voluntarily submitted to a Breathalyzer test, which showed Gerald’s alcohol content to be 0.23 percent, court documents show. He was booked on second-offense DWI and improper lane use.
Gerald was convicted of first-offense DWI and sentenced to one-year probation in that case, court records show. He also was required to complete four days of public service work, attend a driving class, undergo a substance abuse evaluation and listen to a victim impact panel.
Like D’Aquilla, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux of the 21st Judicial District said he did not charge Gerald with second-offense DWI because he couldn’t confirm that Gerald had been convicted of a first-offense DWI.
Gerald’s most recent DWI arrest came Thursday, hours after authorities say he crashed his pickup into a car carrying seven Baton Rouge residents, including two children. The fatal collision occurred at 9:12 p.m. near the intersection of La. 67 and La. 412, near Slaughter.
State Police have said five of the seven people in the car were killed instantly, while two teen passengers are in critical condition.
The driver of the car was Brenda Gaines, 64, of Baton Rouge. The four deceased passengers, all of Baton Rouge, were Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Mosely, 35.
The injured teens are Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, and Willie Gaines, 15.
Gerald was booked into East Feliciana Parish Prison on five counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of first-degree vehicular negligent injury and one count each of second-offense DWI, reckless operation and driving left of center.
Gerald was released from prison after his family posted a property bond of more than $256,000.
Valerie Cox, volunteer development coordinator with the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Louisiana Office, said the deaths of the five Baton Rouge residents were “100 percent preventable.”
“When I heard about it Thursday, it was devastating,” she said. “I was very angry.”
Cox said Gerald’s previous DWI arrests should have been lessons learned before deciding to drink and drive again.
“It shows he was not trying to do better,” she said. “I wish he could be sentenced like a first-degree murderer.”
The maximum penalty for a conviction of vehicular homicide is 30 years per count, according to state law.
Cox said Louisiana’s DWI laws should be stiffer, including a much harsher penalty for refusing to take the Breathalyzer test.
The Rev. Ray Gilbert Sr. said on behalf of the Johnson family that they are praying for the Gerald family and hope “this tragedy will be a warning to all who drink and drive.”
“No life is worth any amount of drinking,” he said. “We hope that the law enforcement and prosecutors will not allow a technicality of the law to injure our family even further.”
Advocate staff writer David Mitchell contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed on June 2, 2012, to correct the first-name spellings of Jyran Johnson and Rogerick Johnson Jr.