Teacher accused of DWI fired from Ascension Christian school

Officials at an Ascension Parish private school fired an elementary teacher Tuesday who was arrested Monday on driving while intoxicated and other counts shortly after she was asked to leave the Gonzales-area school.

Teacher Jaime Ingrassia, 36, of Gonzales, was arrested on a second DWI count, but she will not face prosecution for a second DWI offense, prosecutors said Tuesday.

That’s because on Sept. 24, Ingrassia completed a pre-trial intervention program on a previous DWI arrest in St. James Parish in June.

“The second (arrest) will still be treated as the first because (the St. James incident) does not count as a conviction,” said Larry Buquoi, first assistant district attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, which covers Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.

Shortly after leaving Ascension Christian Elementary on Monday, Ingrassia rear-ended another vehicle at La. 30 and La. 44, about 6.5 miles from her school on Airline Highway and fled the scene, Gonzales police said.

Gonzales officers, who caught up with Ingrassia at a nearby park, said a Breathalyzer test showed her blood-alcohol content was 0.285 percent, more than three times the legal limit allowed to drive in Louisiana.

In Ingrassia’s June 6 arrest, she drove into the median of Airline Highway in St. James Parish and got stuck about 6 a.m. that day. Authorities arrested her on counts of careless operation of a vehicle and first-offense DWI.

Her blood-alcohol content then was found to be 0.194 percent, Buquoi said.

Based on her arrest record, Gonzales police booked Ingrassia into the Ascension Parish Jail near Donaldsonville on Monday on counts of second-offense DWI, felony hit-and-run and careless operation of a vehicle, police said.

Ascension Christian officials said Tuesday that Ingrassia was fired after she met with the school’s administrative team at 11:30 a.m. School officials said in a statement Tuesday that at no time did the principal believe Ingrassia was intoxicated Monday when he told her to leave.

Principal Brett Shelton did not see her slur her words or lose her balance or smell alcohol on her during a morning meeting with her, school officials said in the statement.

Shelton had told Ingrassia to leave the school Monday morning because “she was not in the proper frame of mind to fulfill her duties in the classroom,” officials said.

Detective Sgt. Steven Nethken said Tuesday that Ingrassia told officers that Ascension Christian officials sent her home before 9 a.m. Monday.

She didn’t say why.

The school is part of Household of Faith Church, located next to the school east of Gonzales.

First- and second-offense DWIs are misdemeanors that carry a fine of up to $1,000 and no more than six months in jail.

If a second DWI conviction occurs within a year, state law requires the offender to spend 30 days in jail. The defendant also faces mandatory participation in substance abuse and driver-improvement programs.

To avoid prosecution in St. James Parish, Ingrassia was required to do 64 hours of community service and a 30-day outpatient treatment, pay fees and meet other conditions under the program, Buquoi said.

Twenty-third Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin offers PTI to defendants with first-time offenses of DWI, simple battery and other similar criminal charges.

“It’s an opportunity for people to help themselves without having the scar of having a criminal record,” Buquoi said.

It was not clear Tuesday when school officials learned about Ingrassia’s first DWI arrest in St. James Parish or how long Ingrassia had worked at Ascension Christian. State online education records show she has been certified to teach pre-kindergarten to third grade since late June 2009.

According to the school statement, Shelton made the decision to send Ingrassia home after spending time with her in counsel and prayer. Shelton had asked Ingrassia to meet after noticing shortly after 8 a.m. Monday that Ingrassia was upset.

Police Sgt. Steven Nethken said Tuesday that when officers caught up with Ingrassia, she had slurred speech and was stumbling. Because of her unsteadiness and heavy intoxication, officers did not conduct a field-sobriety test along the busy road where they had stopped her.

“It was very apparent to us, but we are trained to recognize those indicators,” Nethken said.

Glynn Delatte, a Baton Rouge lawyer and retired state trooper, said he does not think Ascension Christian faces liability for allowing Ingrassia to go home alone.

“Even if she got into an accident and hurt somebody, I don’t think the school is liable for her actions once she leaves campus,” Delatte said.

He said some states have laws that, for instance, make bartenders liable for over-serving someone who later gets into a car accident, but Louisiana is not one.

Nethken agreed with Delatte’s assessment of the law.

“That’s why we never went to the school and did any follow-up,” Nethken said. “It’s not within our jurisdiction, and there’s no criminal element that we can pursue.”

Ingrassia was released from jail Monday after posting $1,690 bail.