Neilson Rizzuto

Neilson Rizzuto, 25, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Wednesday. He faces 27 counts in connection with the Feb. 25 crash at the Endymion parade in Mid-City.

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The man accused of drunkenly plowing into a crowd of Carnival revelers during this year's Endymion parade pleaded guilty Thursday to a slew of relatively minor crimes stemming from the incident, clearing the way for a trial or plea deal on more serious felony charges. 

The defendant, 25-year-old Neilson Rizzuto, had been facing 13 misdemeanor counts for various victims' injuries, including a sprained left ankle. 

He still faces another 13 felony charges stemming from the crash, which took place place in Mid-City on Feb. 26 and left 32 people injured, some seriously.  

Victims ranged from a 1-year-old girl to a 56-year-old woman.

“He wanted to try and go ahead and move the case along,” said Rizzuto’s defense attorney, Nanak Rai. “He's remorseful for what happened, and obviously by pleading he is showing his remorse.”

The bloody scene, in the midst of a popular Carnival parade, left some wondering for a time whether New Orleans had been the target of a terror attack. But police quickly determined that Rizzuto — who was wrestled out of his truck by a firefighter — was in fact intoxicated.

Police said a breath test taken two hours after the crash showed that Rizzuto’s blood-alcohol level was .232 percent, nearly three times the legal driving limit.

Criminal District Court Judge Benedict Willard delayed sentencing on the misdemeanor counts until Oct. 27 to allow crash victims time to deliver written or oral impact statements, according to Rai.

Each misdemeanor count can carry a sentence of up to six months in jail. Rizzuto, of Paradis, has been held in custody in lieu of $404,000 bail since his arrest on the night of the crash.

Rai said he believes that the six-month terms for the misdemeanor counts of vehicular negligent injuring must run concurrently, meaning that his client has already served more time in jail than he's facing on those counts. 

No trial date has been set for the felony charges, and Rizzuto's pleas came during a standard motions hearing.

Chris Bowman, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, said the pleas did not come as part of a deal with prosecutors.

"He pleaded guilty as charged. The sentencing is up to the judge,” Bowman said.

Rizzuto still faces 12 counts of first-degree vehicular negligent injuring, each carrying a sentence of up to five years, and one count of hit-and-run driving with death or serious bodily injury, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

Rai and Bowman both declined to comment on whether there have been any plea negotiations on the remaining charges. The Oct. 27 court date will also serve as a hearing on motions about whether the prosecutors had enough evidence to charge Rizzuto with the felony counts.

“The state always has the burden of proof, no matter what they're charging anybody with," Rai said. "As far as the other counts, we'll see what the facts are, and if the facts rise to the level that they'll be able to sustain a conviction." 

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432