NOPD locates Porsche that struck, killed officer

Person of interest detained in officer’s death

New Orleans police on Monday located the white Porsche Panamera that struck and killed Officer Rodney Thomas on the shoulder of Interstate 10 in New Orleans East a day earlier, and several people who may have knowledge about the crime have been questioned, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said.

The car, which appeared to have a temporary plate, was found at the Best of the Best Automotive and Sales shop in the 2600 block of Gravier Street — less than a block from New Orleans Police Department headquarters.

In a news conference late Monday, Serpas described a “web of deception” surrounding the incident, and said police expect to make several arrests. He added that the homicide division has joined the investigation into Thomas’ death.

“Officer Thomas was killed and run over like somebody nobody cared about,” Serpas said.

Police said Monday afternoon that they had detained a “person of interest” in connection with the car. That person’s name was not released.

A few hours later, around 5:35 p.m. Monday, police issued a news release saying they wanted to speak with Kenneth Halley, 28, about the accident. The news release said that Halley “may have information” about the wreck.

Serpas said late Monday that police had managed to track Halley down and questioned him, but that he is not considered a suspect at the moment.

Halley has a long criminal history, according to online court records, including arrests on counts of murder, car theft, heroin distribution and gun charges.

The second-degree murder charge was refused by the district attorney in June 2005, a couple months after it was filed. In that case, Halley and another man were accused of shooting 22-year-old Joseph Lucien in the chest during a fight in an alley off Alabo Street in the Lower 9th Ward.

A forgery charge in 2004 also was dismissed, as were a 2003 arrest for illegal possession of a stolen car and a 2005 charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Halley pleaded guilty in 2004 to possession of heroin and was handed a four-year suspended sentence.

He pleaded guilty again in 2009 to a series of charges including both possession and distribution of heroin and cocaine and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to five years in prison that time, then pleaded guilty again a few months later to an additional heroin-possession charge. The judge tacked on another four-year sentence, but ordered it to run at the same time as the five years he already was serving.

It was not clear from court records when Halley was paroled.

Online address databases list several addresses for Halley, all of them in the 7th, 8th and 9th wards.

After the car’s discovery Monday afternoon, there was a heavy police presence at the scene of the automotive shop. Police did not say who owned the vehicle or how it came to be at the automotive shop. Serpas declined to say if the car was stolen.

The driver of the Porsche did not stop after he struck Thomas while driving “erratically” at around 1 a.m. Sunday, police said. Thomas had had a minor wreck with another car and had gotten out, wearing a reflective vest, to speak with the other driver. After hitting Thomas, the Porsche continued eastbound toward Slidell on Interstate 10.

No one answered the phone at the automotive shop Monday afternoon.

Porsche officials said Monday that about 23,000 Panameras have been sold in the U.S. since 2010. The cars in the model years 2010, 2011 and 2012 have an identical appearance, they said.

The list prices for Panameras start at $78,100 and go as high as $161,100, according to Porsche’s website.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, New Orleans police have investigated 80 fatal car accidents, according to data on the city’s website. Of those 16 — or 20 percent — were hit-and-run accidents. Those include the accident Sunday in which Thomas was killed, and a hit-and-run accident in Bywater on Friday in which Andrew LaPlante, 24, of Mandeville was killed.

Staff writers Claire Galofaro and Gordon Russell contributed to this report.