Suspect booked in Ironman participant’s death

A man suspected of killing an Ironman athlete and seriously injuring his cycling partner by sending both into the air when he rear-ended the pair last week in New Orleans East should not have been behind the wheel because his driving privileges were suspended, according to court documents.

Howard Vidrine, 34, of Gretna, was booked into Orleans Parish Prison late Friday night on counts of vehicular homicide and other offenses, according to jail records.

Police said Vidrine, who remained jailed Monday on $250,000 bail, ran into Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Sgt. Frank Guinn, 36, and his brother-in-law Andrew Powell while they were riding their bicycles about 10:15 a.m. Friday in the 20000 block of Chef Menteur Highway.

Guinn, a native of Haynesville and resident of Dallas, Ga., died at the scene, authorities said. Powell, 41, was taken to a local hospital with a broken spine, according to an application for an arrest warrant filed at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

The men were bicycling through the area two days before Sunday’s 70.3-mile triathlon.

In a written statement, Vidrine told investigators he was driving 40 to 45 mph when Guinn and Powell, who were riding side by side in the right eastbound lane, “swerved in front of him.”

A witness, who was westbound on the highway, told police she saw Vidrine hit both men from behind, sending them soaring into the air.

Police noted in court documents that Vidrine’s Chevrolet Cruze had “very severe” damage to its front end in two spots, as well as two shatters in the windshield, likely caused when bodies slammed into it.

One of the victims — it is not clear which — was tossed onto the car’s roof and carried 60 feet before it stopped, while the other victim fell onto the windshield and was immediately tossed onto the side of the road, according to court documents.

Investigators said the severity of the damage to the car and the victims’ injuries suggested Vidrine was speeding when he hit the men.

Police wrote in court documents that Guinn and Powell were following the law by riding in the right lane. Vidrine could have passed them in the left lane, they said.

In addition to a count of negligent homicide, Vidrine also faces counts of negligent injuring, driving on a suspended license and reckless operation of a motor vehicle, said Officer Garry Flot, a Police Department spokesman.

While court documents say an NOPD search of a national database found that Vidrine’s driving privileges were suspended, the department refused Monday to answer questions about that discovery.

Jail records show Vidrine also was booked on an unspecified outstanding warrant from Gretna. The Gretna Police Department did not respond to a request for information.

Vidrine has a lengthy history of traffic violations in Jefferson Parish, including speeding, failure to yield, disregarding red lights and driving with an expired license plate, according to a search of court records in that parish.

While he remained locked up Monday, a document filed in his case folder at the Orleans Parish court said he would be required to wear an electronic monitor upon his release from jail, likely after posting bond. He will be prohibited from leaving the metro area or driving, according to court documents.

Guinn was a nine-year veteran of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Sgt. Guinn’s brothers and sisters in Atlanta Fire Rescue are devastated by this news,” a statement from the department said. “He was a dedicated professional devoted to his family. As a department, we will wrap our collective arms around his wife, Kim, and his beautiful girls.” Guinn had 7-year-old triplets.

Exercise became a way to relieve the stress of the job, his wife said Sunday morning before the start of the triathlon.

“The road was where he found his peace,” she said. “It calmed his mind.”