Cable median barriers recently installed along Interstate 10 near Highland Road, where five Ascension Parish residents were killed in a fiery 2011 head-on collision, will save lives and could produce “a more favorable result” for four of the victims’ relatives who sued the state earlier this year, their attorney said.
The lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge state court contends traditional guardrails or cable median barriers could have prevented the March 13, 2011, crossover crash that killed Effie Fontenot, 29, of Prairieville; her three young sons: Austin Fontenot, 3; Hunter Johnson, 7; and Keagan Fontenot, 11; and Kimberly Stagg, 19, also of Prairieville.
“The state had identified this stretch of highway as a need for this cable barrier system prior to this accident,” Russell Beall, who represents relatives of Effie, Austin and Keagan Fontenot and Hunter Johnson, said Wednesday. “The state was just negligent in how they prioritized putting this up.”
“The problem was identified. There was an obligation to correct it seasonably,” he added. “Perhaps if it had been done we’d still have a family together.”
Beall called cable median barriers “100 percent effective.”
“Cable barriers are not judgmental. They’re not discriminating. They stop everybody,” he said. “These things are great.”
The suit, filed in February, names the state Department of Transportation and Development, and two drivers charged in the crash, as defendants.
DOTD spokeswoman Jodi Conachen said Thursday that work began last fall on a $2.7 million project to install cable barriers along more than 20 miles of interstate in Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and St. John the Baptist parishes. The work is estimated to be complete in the next few weeks, she said.
The barriers are designed to deflect vehicles that enter the median, keeping them from crossing over into oncoming traffic.
State Police said a pickup driven by David Ryan Leger crossed the I-10 median and struck the car that Effie Fontenot was driving. Her sons and Stagg were passengers.
Leger, of the St. Landry Parish town of Palmetto, is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. Kelsye Jacque Hall, of Baton Rouge, is charged with five counts of negligent homicide. Leger, 30, and Hall, 23, have pleaded innocent.
State Police Lt. Doug Cain has said Hall and Leger were involved in some sort of encounter while driving westbound on the interstate that led to Hall intentionally preventing Leger from passing her vehicle. At one point, Cain said, Hall was driving on the center line to keep Leger from passing on either side.
When Leger drove onto the right shoulder of the interstate in an attempt to pass Hall, she moved into the right lane as Leger was merging back onto the road, and the rear of his pickup clipped the front of Hall’s vehicle, the trooper said.
Leger’s truck spun out of control, crossed the median and collided head-on with Fontenot’s car, which burst into flames.
Leger’s arrest warrant says his blood-alcohol content was 0.10 percent. In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving. For those under 21, a reading of 0.02 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving.
Leger faces five to 30 years in prison on each count of vehicular homicide if convicted, while Hall faces two to five years on each negligent homicide count if convicted.
Stagg’s parents sued Leger and Hall last year. The suit is pending in 19th Judicial District Court, which has jurisdiction in East Baton Rouge Parish.