St. James councilman arrested in negligent homicide

St. James Parish Councilman Terry McCreary was arrested on a count of negligent homicide in a crash that occurred five months ago that led to the death of a 74-year-old Paulina man, parish jail records say.

McCreary, 64, 20756 La. 3125, Paulina, swerved on two-lane Lutcher Avenue on Sept. 5 to avoid a Chevrolet Trailblazer ahead of him, a Lutcher police report says.

The northbound pickup that McCreary was driving at about 11:30 a.m. glanced the rear of the Trailblazer and ran head-on into an oncoming Ford pickup driven by Preston O. Barras Jr., of Paulina, the report says.

The Lutcher police report says McCreary was initially cited with careless operation.

Barras had severe injuries after the crash and was taken to an area hospital, the report says. According to an obituary in The Advocate, however, Barras died Sept. 17.

McCreary and the driver of the Trailblazer had moderate injuries and were treated at a hospital, the report says.

The police report says officers did not suspect McCreary of alcohol or drug use. He was not tested for either.

In addition to negligent homicide, McCreary was booked into the St. James Parish Jail in Convent on Feb. 5 with careless operation, the parish jail book says. McCreary was released less than two hours after he posted bail of $5,200, the parish jail book says.

District Attorney Ricky Babin, of the 23rd Judicial District, said Wednesday that he has been informed that Lutcher police waited nearly five months to arrest McCreary because investigators were waiting on the scientific investigation of the crash to be completed and subpoenaed records to be turned in, including those from McCreary’s cellphone.

McCreary is a first-term councilman who took office in January 2012 after unseating three-term Council District 3 incumbent Wilson Malbrough Jr. in a close election on Oct. 22, 2011. Both men are Democrats.

McCreary also works as a maintenance and operations manager for the St. James Parish School Board and was driving in a school system pickup when the crash occurred, school officials said.

The police report said, at the time of the crash, that it was unknown whether McCreary was distracted.

McCreary, who was going 45 mph in a 40-mph zone, told the investigating officer that he did not notice the stopped Trailblazer ahead of him at the entrance to St. James Parish Hospital, the report says.

Lutcher Police Chief Dwan Bowser did not return two calls to his cellphone Wednesday for comment and a message left at Town Hall. Police offices were locked and the lights were off Wednesday afternoon during business hours.

McCreary did not return a call to his house for comment. He was not home Wednesday afternoon.

Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Louisiana secretary of state, said there is no state law that says an elected official arrested on a felony count has to leave office.

Under state law, elected officials who are convicted of a felony must be removed from office and are automatically suspended without compensation until the conviction is final and all appeals are exhausted.

Conviction on a count of negligent homicide can bring a sentence of up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both, state law says.

Carol Webre, administrative director of the School Board Human Resources Department, said Wednesday that McCreary continues to work for the school system but has had his travel restricted and must work from the office.

The School Board met in closed session to discuss McCreary on Tuesday night during a meeting at St. James High School in St. James, Webre said. The board took no action once it was back in open session.

St. James Parish government spokeswoman Melissa Wilkins referred calls Wednesday to the parish Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. could not be reached on Wednesday.