CLINTON — A Greensburg man who pleaded guilty Monday to killing seven people in a May 30 head-on collision wants to take full responsibility for his actions, his attorney said.
Brett G. Gerald, 30, in his first appearance before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael without having to use a wheelchair, answered “guilty” seven times when asked how he pleaded to each vehicular homicide count.
“He did not want to put the victims’ families, or his own family, through a trial, so as a result he took those actions. It was his decision completely,” defense attorney Tommy Damico said.
Carmichael set a March 12 sentencing hearing for Gerald, who was scheduled to go on trial Tuesday.
As a result of the pleas, Gerald faces five- to 30-year prison sentences on each count and possible fines ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 per count.
District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said Gerald was not offered a plea bargain in the case, and Carmichael will determine the sentence after he receives a pre-sentence investigation report from the state Office of Probation and Parole.
Five people in a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis driving on La. 67 about a mile south of the Comite River in East Feliciana Parish died instantly in the collision with Gerald’s 2007 Dodge pickup: the driver, Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Matthews Mosely, 36, all of Baton Rouge.
Two other passengers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, also of Baton Rouge, died several days later.
All but Mosely were members of the same extended family.
They had attended a service at a Clinton church pastored by Mosely’s father and were traveling home to Baton Rouge when Gerald’s vehicle crossed into their lane of traffic, narrowly missing a vehicle traveling ahead of the Gaines’ car.
Gerald had been celebrating his 30th birthday at a Zachary restaurant and bar before the collision.
A state trooper who investigated the crash testified earlier that an analysis of a blood sample taken at Lane Regional Medical Center 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. Gerald had three other DWI arrests before the crash and one conviction.
D’Aquilla said the victims’ survivors will be able to offer testimony at the March 12 hearing on how the losses affected them.
“I’m glad he took the plea and stood up like a man to own up to what he did,” said Alvin Matthews, Mosely’s brother. “We understand the (sentencing) decision is up to the judge. We pray the right thing will be done, which I believe it will be,” he said.
Matthews’ brother, Calvin Matthews, said the collision affected three families and sparked different emotions in each.
The survivors were united in demanding justice for their loved ones, “but we were not trying to make a circus out of everything,” Calvin Matthews said.
John Gaines Sr., the husband of Brenda Gaines, said the Gaines family understands the outcome is now in the judge’s hands.
“Our main thing is here is not to be vengeful. All we want is fair justice. We’re not out for blood; we’re not here to create any problems, just justice. I lost six people, and we don’t want the man to get away with five or 10 years,” John Gaines Sr. said.
Brenda Sinclair, a victim’s advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said pleading guilty was a “no-brainer,” but the pleas also spared the families the horror of listening to gruesome testimony in a trial.
“I hope other people understand that if they drink and drive, this can happen to them just as well,” Sinclair said.
Damico said defense experts asked to look at the evidence came to the same conclusion as the state’s experts.
After looking at the defense experts’ reports, “we determined that the accident happened as alleged,” Damico said.
On Damico’s advice, Gerald has not addressed the victims’ families to express his remorse, the defense attorney said.
“But he will address them. He is remorseful; he has been remorseful from the start,” Damico said.