Witnesses: Reckless driving preceded fatal accident _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Veronica Sue Fontenot, left, mother of Effie Fontenot, who died in a fiery March 2011 crash, leaves the 19th JDC courthouse during the lunch break Wednesday on the first day of the first day of the quintuple-fatality vehicular homicide trial of David Leger.

The vehicular homicide trial of a St. Landry Parish man accused in a fiery Interstate 10 crash in Baton Rouge that killed five Ascension Parish residents in 2011 was abruptly recessed Thursday without the jury hearing any testimony.

David Leger’s attorney, Tommy Damico, told state District Judge Trudy White there were evidentiary issues that needed to be resolved, and he asked the judge to delay the trial until Friday morning. The trial kicked off Wednesday morning.

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Ron Gathe did not object, so White granted the delay. She sent the jury home shortly after 9:30 a.m. The panel had reported to the courthouse about 30 minutes earlier.

The defense’s chief witness, traffic accident reconstruction expert Michael Gillen, of Baton Rouge, was in White’s courtroom Thursday morning and ready to take the witness stand when the trial was delayed for a day.

Leger, 32, of Palmetto, faces five to 30 years in prison on each of five vehicular homicide counts if found guilty as charged. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent several hours after the crash, state troopers testified Wednesday. In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving for those 21 and older.

Damico argued to the jury Wednesday that Kelsye Hall, who was convicted last summer on five counts of negligent homicide in the horrific crash and later sentenced to two years in prison, was solely responsible for the fatal crash.

But several witnesses testified at Leger’s trial — and at Hall’s trial — that both drivers appeared to be engaged in a reckless, high-speed game of cat and mouse on I-10 West between the Prairieville/Geismar and Highland Road exits on March 13, 2011, when Leger’s pickup clipped the front of Hall’s sport utility vehicle, rocketed across the grassy median and collided with a car, killing its five occupants.

A former state trooper-turned-accident reconstructionist testified for the defense at Hall’s trial in August that damage to the front of her SUV was too minor to have caused Leger’s truck to lose control, cross the median and crash into the victims’ car.

“In my opinion, she was not the cause of this accident,” Richard Fox said at Hall’s trial. “The wreck was caused by an alcohol-impaired driver steering incorrectly.”

Hall, 25, of Baton Rouge, was released from prison Sunday and testified for the prosecution at Leger’s trial. She said he tailed her for 10 miles, then tried to pass her on the right shoulder before clipping her vehicle, crossing the median and colliding with oncoming traffic.

Killed in the crash were Kimberly Stagg, 19, and Effie Fontenot, 29, both of Prairieville, and Fontenot’s three young sons: Austin Fontenot, 3, Hunter Johnson, 7, and Keagan Fontenot, 11.