CLINTON — Confusion reigned for a few minutes Tuesday as relatives of seven people killed in a head-on collision arrived at the East Feliciana Parish courthouse to learn neither vehicular-homicide defendant Brett Gerald nor his attorney was present for a routine court hearing.
Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla also was caught by surprise, telling members of the Matthews and Gaines families he had learned only “15 minutes ago” that Gerald’s attorney, Tommy Damico, could not appear for the hearing because he was involved in a Baton Rouge trial.
After D’Aquilla addressed the family members, some of whom were visibly angry, he went into the courtroom, spoke with an assistant, and emerged to say the hearing would proceed.
“Mr. Damico doesn’t have to be here,” he told the group.
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 in a May 30 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 later.
Gerald, 30, who suffered ankle injuries in the collision, has been taken to and from the courthouse in a wheelchair pushed by deputies in earlier appearances. Parish jail Warden Ray Newman said early Tuesday that Damico had waived Gerald’s appearance.
Gerald, who is being held in jail in lieu of $1 million bail, faces seven counts of vehicular homicide.
Tuesday’s hearing was a continuation of a Sept. 11 “discovery” hearing at which D’Aquilla and Damico agreed to provide information about the case that each is entitled to review for trial.
D’Aquilla filed into the official case record a report on the truck’s computerized event data recorder, or “black box,” a report on how evidence was transferred from one investigator to another and the credentials of the nurse who drew a sample of blood from Gerald the night of the collision.
State Police have said an analysis of a sample of Gerald’s blood taken at Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary showed his 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 has had three earlier DWI arrests.
Twentieth Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael ruled that the state had fulfilled its obligation on the discovery motion.
Before court began, family members of the victims complained that they were not notified of Tuesday’s developments and had taken off from work to attend the hearing. They also said they were not notified that an earlier hearing had been canceled at the last minute because Damico was unavailable.
The family also said they believed Tuesday’s matter had been postponed until Oct. 23, but D’Aquilla told them that date was set for status conferences among prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge regarding trials set for the week of Dec. 10.
“Hopefully, the trial will go in December,” D’Aquilla said.