Police: New Orleans crash driver spoke of ‘drinking problem’
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A driver suspected of killing two people and injuring seven others, most of them on bikes, as large crowds gathered in New Orleans for Mardi Gras told police after the deadly crash, “I have a drinking problem,” according to a police report.
New Orleans police said Tashonty Toney, 32, was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and other charges after crashing his car Saturday evening on a busy thoroughfare near the route of one of New Orleans’ largest Mardi Gras parades.
Police spokesman Andy Cunningham said in a statement Sunday morning that authorities are waiting for the results of a blood alcohol test, but they believe the suspect was impaired. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune reported a police incident report said Toney refused to take a field sobriety test and told officers he had struggled with alcohol.
“I have a drinking problem,” the police report quoted Toney as saying. “I should have gotten help, I’m going to jail for a DWI.”
Toney’s bond was set at $510,000 by a magistrate commissioner Sunday. Toney did not speak during the hearing and was represented by a public defender, the newspaper said. The public defender’s office in New Orleans did not immediately return a phone message Sunday from The Associated Press.
Cunningham said Toney was the son of a New Orleans police officer and promised the department’s investigation will be “open and transparent.” Saturday was Toney’s birthday, the news release said.
In addition to vehicular homicide, Toney was charged with seven counts of vehicular negligent injury, hit and run, and reckless operation, the police news release said.
The crash happened along a multiple-block stretch of Esplanade Avenue, a leafy street that connects the city’s biggest park with the French Quarter. The scene was close to the route of the Endymion parade, one of New Orleans’ largest Mardi Gras parades, that was held Saturday.
New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson told a news conference late Saturday that despite the crash’s proximity to the parade route, “we do not believe at this point in time that this has anything to do with the Endymion parade.”
Police said most of the victims were bicyclists, and photographs of the scene showed mangled bikes along the side of the street.
Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson told local media that bystanders in the area were the ones who stopped the driver.
“We were able to apprehend the subject so quickly because citizens stopped this individual, because they thought they were helping someone who had just been involved in a one-car accident,” Ferguson said.
One witness, cyclist Frank Rourk, told The New Orleans Advocate that he saw a driver of a dark sports car spin out on the median. The driver ran to a nearby corner and laid down on the sidewalk where he lost consciousness.
Rourk and two other people were able to wake the driver, and Rourk, who initially didn’t realize anyone was hit, told the driver: “I’m pretty sure you’re the guy who wrecked the car. You better go back there.” The driver then asked whether he had killed anyone.
EMS spokesman Jonathan Fourcade said a man and a woman — both about 30 years old — were killed.
EMS Director Emily Nichols told WVUE-TV that three of the five people brought to the hospital were in critical condition.
One onlooker, Dane Barrymore, told The New Orleans Advocate that he was smoking a cigarette outside a market when he saw a dark sports car speeding down the street. The driver swerved into the bike lane to try to go around a vehicle.
“It just happened there were people there - bicyclists,” Barrymore said. Barrymore said he saw two women and one man get struck. He said he went to help but it quickly became apparent that one of the women and the man didn’t survive.