Update: 9:17 p.m.
Chau Nguyen, the man who allegedly struck and killed NOPD officer Natasha Hunter, had his bail set at $1 million Tuesday evening.
According to reports from WWL-TV, two men who identified themselves as Nguyen's childhood friends reported that he had been drinking at Harrah's Casino before the accident.
Stay tuned for more.
A New Orleans Police Department officer who was gravely injured early Sunday while responding to a multiple-car accident on Interstate 10 died Tuesday, prompting authorities to book the man accused of plowing into her police vehicle on a count of vehicular homicide.
Police said Officer Natasha Hunter, 32, an 11-year veteran assigned to the 1st District, succumbed to her injuries.
“This is a tragic loss for her family, friends, fellow officers and our entire community,” NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said in a statement. “We will never forget the sacrifice she made, and the hearts and prayers of our entire department are with her family today and always.”
Along with a 5-year-old daughter, Hunter’s family includes at least three sisters working in local law enforcement, according to Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Donovan Livaccari.
One is a New Orleans police officer, another is a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office correctional officer and the third works at the city’s 911 call center.
“We’re kind of a family to begin with, and when it’s genuine family mixed in with the professional family, that always makes it harder,” said Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans.
Hunter, who according to assessor’s records lived in Bridge City, peppered her Facebook page with frequent, adoring references to her young daughter — and to her love for her job.
“First and foremost, she was a devoted mother,” Livaccari said. “She was a dependable person, a good officer and an asset to the city and all of her colleagues.”
Hunter graduated from Marion Abramson Senior High School in 2001 and joined the department in December 2004.
“For Hurricane Katrina to have been the first real challenge that a young police officer faces, and to stick it out and keep working and pursue making this a better city is noteworthy in and of itself,” Livaccari said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement that he was “devastated” to learn of Hunter’s death.
“She was a dedicated police officer who wore the badge with honor and pride,” Landrieu said. “Her loss is an absolute tragedy.”
The Police Department said a public prayer memorial for Hunter will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Police Headquarters, 715 S. Broad St.
Just hours after Hunter died, police booked the man accused of crashing into her vehicle after drinking on counts of vehicular homicide and reckless operation of a vehicle.
Police allege that as Hunter helped clear up a multiple-vehicle accident on eastbound Interstate 10 near the Esplanade Avenue exit about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, 33-year-old Chau Thai Nguyen sped past warning lights and crashed into the back of the vehicle in which she was sitting.
Hunter was taken to University Medical Center but had suffered severe brain injuries and was “non-responsive” after the crash, according to Harrison.
Nguyen also was injured and was taken to the hospital. Detectives said they smelled alcohol on his breath and that under questioning he admitted he had been drinking before the crash. The results of his toxicology tests are pending.
Nguyen’s booking photo showed him wearing a blue hospital smock and sitting in a wheelchair, with his eyes cast down. He is a student at Xavier University’s College of Pharmacy, according to a statement from the school.
Hunter is the third New Orleans officer to die on an interstate highway in the city in three years.
Officer Rodney Thomas was killed after being struck by a hit-and-run driver on the I-10 high rise in July 2013, and Officer Vernell Brown died in July, a week after being hit by a car on the Pontchartrain Expressway.
“I’m sure the driver had a family also. It’s no reason to celebrate, the fact that this individual was charged,” Livaccari said. “The message to drivers is to slow down, and I guess the clear message is: Don’t drink and drive.”