Amid Mardi Gras joy, tears for bicyclists killed in traffic

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mourners placed bouquets, balloons, and Mardi Gras beads near the bike lane among the oaks on Monday along New Orleans’ Esplanade Avenue as plans for a parade were altered to include time for tears.

People who knew the two bicyclists killed Saturday night — and some who never met them — dealt with the grief ahead of Tuesday’s joyous climax to New Orleans’ annual Carnival season.

The dead have been identified as Sharree Walls, 27, of New Orleans and David Hynes, 31, of Seattle. They were among nine people hit when a car sped into a bicycle lane Saturday night, blocks away from a parade route.

The man identified as the car’s driver, 32-year-old Tashonty Toney, faces multiple charges including two counts of vehicular homicide.

“I didn’t know them ... I drive by here every day,” said one man, who choked up before pinning a bouquet to an oak tree near the bike lane and walking away.

Friends told local news outlets that Walls was the executive director of Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, which provides financial support for projects in underserved communities.

She was also a member of the Krewe of Red Beans, a marching club known for light-hearted costumes that marches annually the day before Mardi Gras. Their parade stepped off as scheduled Monday afternoon. But it began with a slow, funereal “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in her memory by the Treme Brass Band before the up-tempo march began.

“I think we can all dance extra for her today to celebrate her life,” krewe founder Devin DeWulf said, as he addressed the costumed crowd just before the march began.

Hynes was a former New Orleans resident and Tulane Law School graduate who was visiting during Mardi Gras. He had been married for a year and was waiting for his wife to join him on his New Orleans visit, his mother-in-law told The New Orleans Advocate.

They died not far from where the Krewe of Endymion parade — an annual spectacle of huge, brightly lit floats and marching bands — had just passed.

Walter Rose remembered it Monday as a scene of bedlam, carnage and a futile attempt to save a life.

“It was a lot of screaming, a lot of people hovered around the body,” Rose, recalled as he recounted being at work in Canseco’s market Saturday night when someone ran in asking if anyone knew CPR.

Rose, who said he learned CPR techniques when he was an oilfield worker, ran out to help, joining two others in trying to revive a badly wounded man who later was identified as Hynes. “There was a lot of commotion, a lot of people trying to talk, trying to help.”

The accident held disturbing echoes of a night two years earlier when a drunk driver plowed a pickup truck into a crowd of Endymion parade watchers, injuring dozens.

There were fewer injured this time, but the results were deadly.

Police said the fact that Toney is the son of a New Orleans police officer will not change or impact the investigation, which the department pledged would be “open and transparent,” a department statement said.

Toney also faces seven counts of vehicular negligent injury, hit and run, and reckless operation.