Coroner: Woman died before car crashed into creek

An 89-year-old woman whose car crashed into Wards Creek from an Interstate 10 east exit ramp near the Mall of Louisiana died of natural causes shortly before the car plunged into the water, the coroner said Wednesday.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy on Vivian Augustin, 89, 352 W. Chalfont Drive, Wednesday, two days after the accident, Coroner Beau Clark said.

Preliminary autopsy results show the woman died of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a heart condition in which the blood vessels harden with plaque, Clark said.

Clark said that while his office cannot pinpoint whether Augustin had a heart attack, “the presumption is pretty high” that she had one.

The crash was not a factor in Augustin’s death, Clark said.

Authorities recovered Augustin’s silver Toyota Rav 4 Monday evening after the vehicle veered off Frontage Road at I-10 and went into the creek.

Despite the news Wednesday, state Department of Transportation and Development spokeswoman Jodi Conachen said the agency will review the curve to see if any safety improvements can be made.

“It does alter what can be done with this specific incident, but we’ll look at it from an overall perspective,” Conachen said.

Conachen said DOTD will look at possibly adding warning signs or guard rails in the area as well as examining the steepness of the curve.

Conachen said DOTD is waiting on reports from the Coroner’s Office and Police Department. The agency’s investigation into the incident may take a month, she said.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and St. George Fire Department firefighters traveled by boat up and down the rain-swollen creek for several hours Monday before finding Augustin’s vehicle in the 25-foot deep water.

A woman flagged down a sheriff’s deputy around 1:35 p.m. after witnessing the incident, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said.

The witness told deputies she saw Augustin’s SUV accelerate and drive off the embankment at Frontage Road at I-10 east and into the creek below, Hicks said.

A bridge connects the I-10 exit ramp to Frontage Road, which then becomes Mall of Louisiana Boulevard.

Members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services Unit and St. George Fire Department used pike poles to poke at the bottom of the creek, until they located the vehicle around 4:45 p.m., Hicks said.

Sheriff’s Office divers then went into the water and chained the vehicle to a tow truck that pulled it out of the water and onto shore around 5:40 p.m.

Authorities found Augustin in the SUV, Hicks said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The vehicle’s windows were broken, which means it filled with water and sank to the bottom of the creek shortly after landing in it, Hicks said.

Authorities shut down the interstate entrance and exit ramps in the area for several hours while working the scene, leading to traffic jams around the mall.

Tire tracks were faintly visible where the car ran off the road. A guard rail extends only about 40 yards from the bridge at the top of the ramp.