2 adults, 3 children killed in fiery Interstate 10 crash
Holding a framed photograph of her 19-year-old daughter, Karen Stagg stood before a judge Tuesday and pleaded for justice in the case of the fiery Interstate 10 road-rage crash that killed her daughter and four other Ascension Parish residents, three of them young children.
Stagg pressed for a severe penalty for Kelsye Hall, 24, telling state District Judge Trudy White she goes to sleep every night with thoughts of her daughter Kimberly dying inside a burning car on March 13, 2011.
White sentenced Hall, of Baton Rouge, to two years in prison.
“I’m not at a point where I can forgive,” Stagg told the judge, with her husband, Kenneth Stagg, at her side.
“She’ll never get married. She’ll never have children. She didn’t deserve that. There is no closure for our family. There will never be closure. It was senseless. It didn’t have to happen. She didn’t have to sit in a car burning.”
White, who convicted Hall on five counts of negligent homicide in August, also ordered that Hall be put on active supervised probation for five years after her release from prison. The judge ordered her to immediately begin serving the prison time.
White said it was the high-speed “cat-and-mouse play” between Hall and another westbound driver, David Leger, that caused the deaths of Effie Fontenot, 29, and Kimberly Stagg, 19, both of Prairieville, and Fontenot’s three young sons: Austin Fontenot, 3; Hunter Johnson, 7; and Keagan Fontenot, 11.
Hall and Leger did not know each other.
Leger’s pickup clipped Hall’s sport utility vehicle before crossing the grassy I-10 median between Highland Road and the Bluff Road overpass and colliding with a car driven eastbound by Effie Fontenot.
Fontenot’s car burst into flames.
Leger, 31, of Palmetto in St. Landry Parish, is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide and faces five to 30 years in prison on each count if convicted. His next court date before White is Nov. 12. Leger’s attorney, Tommy Damico, has said Hall caused the accident.
State Police said Leger had a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent at the time of the crash.
In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving for those 21 and older.
White said she declined to quantify Hall’s criminal negligence because Leger has not been tried.
Hall faced two to five years in prison on each of the counts relating to Austin Fontenot and Hunter Johnson, and up to five years in prison on the counts involving Kimberly Stagg, Effie Fontenot and Keagan Fontenot.
White sentenced Hall to concurrent two-year prison terms in the deaths of Austin and Hunter.
The judge then sentenced Hall to consecutive five-year terms in the deaths of the three other victims, but suspended those 15 years in lieu of active supervised probation for five years.
“She did what she felt was appropriate,” prosecutor Ron Gathe said after the sentencing. “We have to live with it.”
Hall’s attorney, state Rep. Alfred C. Williams, said her conviction and sentence will be appealed. At the sentencing, Williams argued for home incarceration.
“Two (years) was too much,” he said afterward. “This lady was not guilty of this.”
Williams stated, as he did at Hall’s trial, that Leger was chasing Hall.
State Police Lt. Doug Cain has said previously that witnesses indicated Hall intentionally prevented 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, the rear of his pickup clipped the front of Hall’s vehicle, Cain said.
Leger’s truck spun out of control, crossed the median and collided head-on with Effie Fontenot’s car.
“Kelsye, the cat-and-mouse play was still ongoing when the Leger vehicle was behind your vehicle,” White told Hall.
Hall did not speak at her sentencing. Williams said he advised her to be silent because there are pending lawsuits against her stemming from the crash.
“She is sorry that we are here today and that five people lost their lives,” Williams told the judge, adding Hall continues to pray for the victims’ families.
Hall’s conditions of probation include 160 hours of community service, full-time employment, three Mothers Against Drunk Driving classes and a driver safety course.
She also must refrain from being arrested or convicted.
White said she believes Hall is remorseful but added Hall displayed a blatant disregard for others with her reckless conduct.
Before sentencing Hall, White denied her motion for a new trial. Williams said Hall deserves another trial because the defense was not given access to 911 calls made by passing motorists the night of the crash. Williams said the callers are potential witnesses.
Gathe did not use the tapes at the trial. The judge said one of the callers described two drivers “playing chicken.”
Effie Fontenot and Kimberly Stagg both worked at Frank’s Restaurant on Airline Highway in Prairieville.
Hall and Leger were sued by Kimberly Staggs’ parents in 2011, and by the parents of Effie Fontenot, grandparents of Austin Fontenot, and fathers of Keagan Fontenot and Hunter Johnson in 2012.
The latter suit, also filed against the state Department of Transportation and Development, says traditional guardrails or cable median barriers could have prevented the fatal crash. Cable median barriers are now in place along the stretch of I-10 where the crash occurred.
Five small crosses also mark the spot where the victims died. Karen Stagg said she visits her daughter’s grave daily, and puts flowers at each roadside cross.