Attorney questions whether marijuana use caused 2012 fatal crash with bicyclists

The attorney for a Baton Rouge man accused of drunken driving when he hit two bicyclists on Perkins Road, killing one and severely injuring the other, said Monday both victims tested positive for marijuana after the January 2012 crash.

“If they were actually high, it begs the question who really caused the accident,” said DeVan Pardue, who represents 30-year-old Joseph Branch, outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse following a status hearing in the case.

But prosecutor Julie Cullen, who noted marijuana can remain in a person’s system for up to 28 days, said the presence of marijuana in the bodies of Nathan Crowson and Danny Morris doesn’t mean they were affected by the drugs at the time of the wreck.

“I don’t think it proves they were under the influence of marijuana at that time,” she said outside the downtown Baton Rouge courthouse.

Cullen insisted Branch’s intoxication was the cause of the crash. Pardue suggested Crowson and Morris might have been cycling erratically at the time.

Crowson, 30, an avid cyclist who worked for Mid City Bikes on Government Street, was killed the night of Jan. 21, 2012, near Quail Run Drive; Morris, his friend, suffered severe injuries.

“Danny Morris is physically very broken,” Cullen added. “He’s suffering.”

Branch has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular negligent injuring and second-offense DWI.

State District Judge Mike Erwin on Monday scheduled a motion hearing in the case for June 30 and a trial date of Oct. 14.

“I’m exhausted through all this,” Morris’ mother, Debbie Morris McConnell, said outside the courthouse as she stood with Loc Crowson, one of Nathan Crowson’s brothers. “We just want to get this going and get it behind us.”

Branch had a blood-alcohol content of 0.307 percent at the time of the crash, police have said. A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving in Louisiana for those 21 and older.

Morris is suing Branch and The Bulldog, the Perkins Road bar where Branch allegedly drank before the crash.

Branch has a previous DWI charge and conviction. He was booked for his first DWI on Aug. 3, 2006. His blood-alcohol content then was 0.241 percent, City Court records indicate.

He was originally given a 60-day suspended jail term for his first DWI, but that term was reinstated three days after the crash that killed Crowson and injured Morris, the records show.

Branch was then allowed to post bond under the condition that he go directly from jail to an inpatient treatment facility. He completed that treatment.