CLINTON — A state district judge on Tuesday set trial during the week of Dec. 10 for the Greensburg man accused of drunken driving in the head-on collision that killed seven people.
Brett G. Gerald, 30, pleaded not guilty to seven counts of vehicular homicide before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael, who also set an Aug. 14 hearing for any motions that may be filed by Gerald’s defense attorney, Tommy Damico.
Still recovering from ankle injuries sustained in the May 30 head-on collision between his pickup truck and a car carrying seven people home from church, Gerald sat in a wheelchair while Carmichael conducted the brief hearing in a small, first-floor courtroom in East Feliciana Parish’s courthouse.
A small group of people stood to watch the proceedings.
The main courtroom is on the second floor, but the parish is not required to have an elevator in the antebellum courthouse.
Five people in the car died instantly in the collision on La. 67 about a mile south of the Comite River: the driver, Brenda Gaines, 64; Denise Gaines, 33; Diamond Johnson, 12; Jyran Johnson, 6; and Angela Mosely, 36.
Two other passengers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and Rogerick Johnson Jr., 13, died later.
State Police 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
“We understand that this proceeding had to take place accordingly, so we’re basically going through the process,” John Gaines Jr., a spokesman for the Gaines and Johnson families said after the hearing.
“We still want justice for what has happened, and we know there’s a process to that. So, we understand what’s going on, and we want to move forward in this case,” Gaines said.
“It’ll be a tough case,” Damico said, adding that Gerald’s family hired him to look at “all the scientific, medical and legal information to make sure what happens here in court is proper.”
The defense attorney said the case is “a tragic situation.”
“It shouldn’t be tried in the press or court of public opinion, but in a court of law. I’ve got my experts to look at everything. My job is to ensure that everything is done properly,” Damico said, adding that publicity about the case may make it difficult to get a fair and impartial jury in East Feliciana Parish.
“But, we’ll cross that when we get to it,” he said.
State Police initially booked Gerald at the East Feliciana Parish Prison on five counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular negligent injury and one count each of second-offense driving while intoxicated, reckless operation and driving left of center.
He was released on bail May 31 after his family posted a property bond of $256,250.
State Police later rearrested Gerald when Willie Gaines Jr. died, and Carmichael ordered him held without bail.
District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla filed formal charges of seven counts of vehicular homicide following the death of Rogerick Johnson, and Carmichael on June 12 set Gerald’s bail at $1 million with additional conditions on his release, including wearing an electronic monitoring device and living with his father.
Alvin Matthews, Mosely’s brother, said the victims’ family members questioned why bail was set at about $250,000 when five people were dead and raised to $1 million when the other two died.
Matthews said, however, he is now “pleased with the bail,” which he said seems to be high and restrictive enough to keep Gerald in jail.
“I’m looking at the big picture. I have faith in God, and I have faith in the justice system,” Matthews said.