By James Minton
July 05, 2012
CLINTON — A state district judge set bail at $1 million Tuesday for the suspected drunken driver accused of vehicular homicide in the deaths of seven people in a May 30 head-on collision in East Feliciana Parish.
Brett G. Gerald, 30, had been jailed in the East Feliciana Parish Prison without bail since June 4.
Gerald, recovering from ankle injuries and seated in a wheelchair, appeared before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael for Tuesday’s bail hearing on the seven counts of vehicular homicide that District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla filed Tuesday.
The judge said if Gerald is released on bail, he must live with his father, not drive a vehicle, not leave his father’s house except to go to church or to get medical treatment and be outfitted with an electronic monitoring device at his expense before he leaves prison.
Trips outside the house must be approved in advance, Carmichael said.
Gerald told the judge he lives alone and attends St. Isidore Catholic Church in Baker about twice a month.
Gerald’s arraignment on the charges, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed until June 26 because Gerald did not have an attorney present.
Carmichael said he would revoke the bail “immediately” if he learns that Gerald violates one of the restrictions.
Gerald’s family did not attend the hearing.
State Police said Gerald, of Greensburg, drove his pickup into the wrong lane of La. 67 south of Clinton and crashed it head-on into a car occupied by seven Baton Rouge residents returning from Bible study in Clinton.
After the hearing, relatives of the victims expressed outrage that the judge set bail for Gerald.
“He shouldn’t have gotten bail. He should not be at home. My family is gone, but he will be at home with his family,” said Marcus Gaines, whose mother and five other relatives were killed in the crash.
Leonce “Skip” Malus III, coordinator of the state Mothers Against Drunk Driving court monitoring program, said it is hard for the relatives of victims killed in drunken-driving crashes to understand why the accused person is granted bail.
“Bail is part of the insurance that the person will appear in court,” Malus said, adding he thought the judge did the most that he could in this case to protect the safety of the community.
D’Aquilla said Carmichael was obligated by law to set bail. Vehicular homicide is not included in the list of “crimes of violence” outlined in state law under which bail before conviction can be denied, the district attorney said.
“I guess it goes to intent,” D’Aquilla said of the distinction.
State Police Senior Trooper Jeff Holley testified Tuesday that a State Police Crime Lab analysis of a sample of Gerald’s blood taken at Lane Memorial Hospital in Zachary showed Gerald’s blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent.
In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving.
Five people in the car died instantly in the collision: the driver, Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Mosely, 36.
Gerald initially was booked at the East Feliciana Parish Prison on five counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular negligent injury and one count each of second-offense driving while intoxicated, reckless operation and driving left of center.
He was initially released on bail May 31 after his family posted a property bond of $256,000.
“I think he may have gotten home before I did,” Holley said of Gerald’s first jailing.
Holley re-arrested Gerald on June 4, booking him with a sixth count of vehicular homicide after Willie Gaines Jr., 15, was taken off life support at a Baton Rouge hospital on June 3.
Carmichael then ordered Gerald held without bail until Tuesday’s hearing.
The seventh victim of the collision, Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, died Sunday at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, State Police said.
Funeral services for six of the victims were held Friday, and a memorial service for Rogerick Johnson Jr. will be held at noon Wednesday at God’s Vineyard Baptist Church, 8486 Harry Drive, Baton Rouge.
A vehicular homicide conviction is punishable by prison terms of five to 30 years in addition to fines of between $2,000 and $15,000.
In Gerald’s case, because his blood-alcohol content was allegedly 0.15 percent and he had been convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2011, a conviction would require that he serve at least five years without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of the sentence, D’Aquilla said.
Carmichael told the defendant he faces more than 200 years in prison with the possibility of 35 years of it without parole or probation, or “almost a life sentence.”
“The evidence against you at this point seems substantial,” Carmichael remarked.
Joseph Matthews, Mosely’s father, also said Gerald should not have been granted the opportunity to be released on bail because the defendant “showed no remorse on his face.”
Matthews, of Clinton, also said Gerald’s trial should be moved from the parish.
Asked to elaborate, Matthews replied, “A lot of things go on (in Clinton). That’s all I’m going to say.”