Hours after a 24-year-old man’s family buried him in a Mandeville cemetery Tuesday morning, his mother got a phone from a New Orleans police detective. He said police had arrested the man they believe plowed into her son in Bywater on Friday morning and fled, leaving 24-year-old Andrew “Andy” LaPlante to die on the street.
“It’s not going to bring my son back, but it’s something,” said his mother, Tamra LaPlante. “I don’t know how one human being could do that to another human being, just leave them laying there like that.”
Michael Anthony Brown Jr., 29, was booked Tuesday afternoon with manslaughter, obstruction of justice and hit-and-run driving causing death or serious bodily injury. He faces the possibility of decades in prison.
LaPlante had been out with friends, celebrating a bachelor party. He was walking alone near the intersection of Music Street and St. Claude Avenue around 5 a.m. Friday, according to the police.
Police reported that LaPlante walked into traffic as he tried to cross the street. An unknown vehicle barreled into him, then drove away as LaPlante succumbed to his injuries on the scene.
“His body was soon discovered, lying in plain view on the median near Music Street and St. Claude,” the police said in a statement late Tuesday.
“It’s been like hell,” his mother said. “I keep waiting for him to come through the door. I keep checking his room, hoping it’s all been a bad dream. I go to call him on the phone all the time, then I realize he’s not going to answer.”
The NOPD said Tuesday that an anonymous tipster called to report a vehicle with damage to its front end parked on Jourdan Avenue. Detectives Anthony Pontiff and Edgar Edwards went to the address and discovered a GMC Yukon in a vacant lot, with damage to its front lights and hood. The detectives knocked on the door of the house next door and Brown answered, according to the NOPD statement. He told them he owned the car and agreed to answer questions.
He reportedly admitted that he drove down St. Claude on Friday morning, and said he believed that he’d “struck something like a dog, circled the block, but didn’t see anything.”
The detectives learned that Brown had noticed the damage to his car, removed the hood and tossed it into the weeds near his house.
“Our strategy is clear: If someone commits a crime like this, and tries to cover it up, they will be tracked down, and the people who tried to help them get away with it will be booked right alongside them as accessories,” Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said in a statement late Tuesday.
LaPlante was the youngest of three siblings, and worked as an electrician with his brother. He was funny and mischievous, his mother said.
“He loved living,” she said. “He was my ray of sunshine. He would come in the room and have you laughing within seconds. He had no hate in his heart; he didn’t know how to hate.”
He was buried Tuesday at Mandeville Cemetery, hours before Brown was arrested.
LaPlante was one of two killed in New Orleans in similar hit-and-run crashes over the holiday weekend. Early Sunday, off-duty New Orleans Police Officer Rodney Thomas was killed when a vehicle hit him and fled on Interstate 10. Three have been arrested in connection with his death. The driver, identified as 25-year-old Justin McKey, was also booked with manslaughter and hit-and-run causing death or serious injury.
Manslaughter is typically reserved for homicides “committed in sudden passion or heat of blood.”
But it is also applicable to killings committed during another crime. Prosecutors could argue that the drivers were engaged in the crime of hit-and-run driving when both LaPlante and Thomas were killed.
Manslaughter is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
On top of that, hit-and run-driving, when it results in death or serious injury, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, given the driver “knew or should have known that death or serious bodily injury has occurred.”
Louisiana prosecutors often turn to two lesser charges in fatal wrecks.
Vehicular homicide requires evidence that the driver was legally drunk or on drugs at the time of the accident. That can be a difficult charge to prove after a hit and run, when the driver is typically arrested hours or days after the wreck. It is punishable by five to 30 years in prison, with at least three to be served without the possibility of parole.
On the lower end of the spectrum, negligent homicide is defined in Louisiana law as the “killing of a human being by criminal negligence.” It is punishable by not more than five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.