Drunk driver kills seven, victims’ family worries about justice
8th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By J. Kojo Livingston
Late last year The Louisiana Weekly reported on an incident in the Baton Rouge area wherein a white drunk driver, Brett Gerald, killed seven Black people. Six were members of the Gaines family and one was a close friend of the family. They were all in a car leaving a church service on May 30 of last year when the incident happened.
Brenda Gaines 64, was driving from church services in Clinton Louisiana. In the car with her were her daughter, Denise Gaines, 33, a friend Angela Mosely, 35 and four children aged five, 11, 13, 15. Gerald veered into oncoming traffic running the car in front of Gaines off the road, and striking Gaines head-on, killing passengers instantly. Two others were brain dead and taken off of life support later. When arrested Gerald’s blood alcohol was more than twice the acceptable level.
For Gerald this was his fourth DWI arrest, including an incident where he struck one vehicle and ran an 18 wheeler and other vehicles off the road. He was convicted in one of the previous arrest. This month he was sentenced to 70 years in prison, of which he should serve a minimum of 35 years. The family doubts this will happen without intervention.
The case has raised questions about equal treatment of victims and perpetrators justice under the law. MADD-Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has been following the case and standing with the family. The Gaines and Mosley families feel that Gerald was given special treatment from the beginning and that their rights as victims were not respected. They also believe that the actual time served could be less than announced by the district attorney.
Gerald initially pled not guilty until December when he changed his plea to guilty. “He changed his plea to get lenience from the court system,” said John Gaines, Jr. son and brother of several of the deceased. “With the overwhelming evidence on the case, he had no choice.”
Gaines is concerned with the handling of the case from the beginning and the treatment of his family. “Gerald’s was initially released on a 256,000 property bond within hours of killing five people, critically injuring two who later died.” According to the official statement from the state trooper who arrested him at the scene, Brett Gerald made it home before he did. Gaines says that no eyewitnesses at the scene were subpoenaed or even asked for statements.
“There was a lack of communication with the family. The family was totally ostracized from the proceedings.” A lot of the family’s questions are still unanswered. “During the pre-sentence investigation under the victim’s bill of rights the family was supposed to be allowed to review it prior to the sentencing. We were denied that right,” said Gaines, who works in law enforcement himself.
“We feel as though a plea deal was done because there was so much with the prosecution that did not seem right. At the sentencing hearing D.A. Sam Dequilla of East Feliciana Parish objected to my impact statement, when I said that thee incident, the proceedings and the lack of communication from the prosecutors left the family traumatized. He actually objected!”
The family questions the truth about the actual sentence. “The media was told he would be a senior citizen before he would get out. He was given a split sentence which would give him a way to get out earlier. They did not let the family know that Gerald was eligible for good time and could be out in as little as 15 years or less. They are looking at this as a non-violent offense.” Two weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled on a case in Bastrop where a young man hit two pedestrians, killing one. In that case the Supreme Court ruled that vehicular homicide is a violent crime and the offender must serve 85 percent of the time.
The family believes that Gerald has been treated differently because of the influence of his grandfather of the same name, who was a senator in the 1980s. According to Gaines’ research, Gerald’s grandfather was a three-term senator and a Baton Rouge City Council Member. In 1979 he was convicted of trying to bribe the Baton Rouge City Council around the building of the Baton Rouge Civic Center. He extorted money from contractors to raise the bribe money. He was convicted and still received his salary from the senate while in federal prison. Once released, he ran for a third term and won.
MADD who is doing a bill board about the situation is concerned about the easy treatment of drunk drivers in Louisiana. They are pushing to make laws tougher and better enforced. In the Gerald case if some of his cases were not handled as first offenses he may have been put on restrictions that could have prevented this accident.
MADD shares the following statics to let the public how serious the problem of drunk driving is:
• About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol are repeat offenders.
• More than 1.41 million drivers were arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
• In 2011, MADD served more than 63,000 victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving crashes.
• Every day in America, another 27 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.
• Drunk driving costs the United States $132 billion a year.
• The average person metabolizes alcohol at the rate of about one drink per hour. Only time will sober a person up. Drinking strong coffee, exercising or taking a cold shower will not help.
• The speed of alcohol absorption affects the rate at which one becomes drunk. Unlike foods, alcohol does not have to be slowly digested. As a person drinks faster than the alcohol can be eliminated, the drug accumulates in the body, resulting in higher and higher levels of alcohol in the blood.
• A standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 72-proof distilled spirits, all of which contain the same amount of alcohol – about .54 ounces.
• Impairment is not determined by the type of drink, but rather by the amount of alcohol ingested over a specific period of time.
• In 2010, 211 children were killed in drunk driving crashes. Out of those 211 deaths, 131 (62 percent) were riding with the drunk driver.
• Teen alcohol use kills about 6000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined.
• One in five teens binge drink. Only 1 in 100 parents believes his or her teen binge drinks.
• 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.
This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.