A bicyclist seriously injured in an alcohol-related January 2012 crash on Perkins Road that killed a fellow cyclist told a state judge Wednesday that the drunken driver convicted in the case in the fall deserves the maximum 30-year prison term.
“Joseph Branch has completely ruined and changed my life forever,” Danny Morris, who was riding bikes with 30-year-old Nathan Crowson when a heavily intoxicated Branch rear-ended the cyclists, said to District Judge Mike Erwin.
Crowson’s oldest brother, Matthew Crowson, said afterward outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that he will never forget the telephone call he received at 3 a.m. on Jan. 22, 2012, informing him that his little brother had been killed earlier that night.
“How do you recover from that?” Matthew Crowson asked through tears. “It’s been the worst three years of my life.”
Erwin, who on Wednesday scheduled Branch’s sentencing for March 18, allowed Morris to give his victim impact statement in advance of the sentencing because Morris had flown from his home in California for Wednesday’s motion hearing in the case. Matthew Crowson pledged to testify at the sentencing.
“Hopefully that will help with the healing,” he said.
Prosecutor Julie Cullen told family members of the victims outside the courtroom that she will push for the maximum sentence. Branch faces a prison term of five to 30 years.
One of Branch’s attorneys, James Manasseh, said after court that Branch went through counseling after the crash.
“He’s suffered a traumatic event in his own life,” Manasseh said.
Manasseh informed Erwin earlier that Branch’s motion for a new trial had been withdrawn.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury deliberated for just an hour in October before unanimously finding Branch, 31, of Baton Rouge, guilty of vehicular homicide and first-degree vehicular negligent injuring.
Police testified Branch had a blood-alcohol level of 0.307 percent at the time of the crash. In Louisiana, a driver with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher is considered to be driving drunk. Branch has a previous DWI charge and conviction. He was booked for his first DWI in 2006. His blood-alcohol level then was 0.241 percent, Baton Rouge City Court records indicate.
Morris suffered a shattered pelvis, nerve damage and other injuries in the Jan. 21, 2012, crash near the intersection of Perkins Road and Quail Run Drive and underwent numerous surgeries. He testified in October that Branch robbed him of a “very close friend,” most of his precrash memories and the ability to do things he once took for granted, such as taking long bike rides, skateboarding and running.
On Wednesday, Morris — who wears a brace for his lower body — described how it is difficult to stand or sit for any length of time, and to sleep. He takes four expensive prescription medications.
“This will go on forever,” he said as an incarcerated Branch sat in the prisoner box in an orange jumpsuit.
Morris said he is preparing to begin more physical therapy.
“My quality of life is so diminished I’m often too depressed to leave the house,” he added.
The crash also left him with very poor vision in his right eye and memory loss.
“I forget things constantly,” he said.
Cullen has said the crash occurred eight minutes after Branch left The Bulldog bar on Perkins. The bar reported he had three shots and several other alcoholic drinks in the two hours leading up to the accident.
Branch was given a 60-day suspended jail term for his 2006 DWI, but the term was reinstated three days after the 2012 crash, City Court records show. He then was allowed to post bond under the condition that he go directly from jail to an inpatient treatment facility. He completed that treatment.