In death, 5-year-old Xander Cruz Benoit has become the hero he always wanted to be.
Xander died Thursday morning, two days after a horrific pileup on Interstate 10 East. His grieving family — well-known Cajun musicians — have sought comfort in their decision to donate his organs.
West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes said Xander was pronounced dead in the hospital following the crash, which involved five vehicles and injured six people when an 18-wheeler failed to stop for a traffic backup and plowed into three vehicles, one of which was pushed under another truck.
Cazes said the truck driver responsible for the accident now faces an additional count of negligent homicide, probably within the next couple of days. Yasin Ibrahim, of Burnsville, Minnesota, was previously cited on five counts of negligent injury and one count of careless operation of a motor vehicle.
Eight people, including a child, were involved in a five-vehicle crash Tuesday about 4 p.m. …
Xander’s grandfather Lee Benoit, an accordion player from the Rayne area, said Thursday evening the body of his only grandchild remains on life support until recipients are found for his organs.
Benoit worked as a paramedic for several years and said Xander loved to hear stories about how he helped save people’s lives. The boy wanted to become a policeman someday.
“That was his dream: to grow up to be a hero and a lifesaver,” Benoit said. “We decided to grant his wish and donate his organs.”
Xander's mother, drummer Maegen Benoit, was driving while her wife, fiddler Rosemary Benoit, sat in the front passenger seat. Xander was sitting in the back watching his favorite television show, "Bubble Guppies," on his iPad and eating sour gummy candy — a reward from his parents for good grades his first six weeks of kindergarten — when the truck smashed directly into the back of their car.
The family was driving from their home in Rayne to New Orleans to perform at a Cajun restaurant with the rest of their band — a group filled with three generations of Benoits, including Xander, who would sometimes sing.
Lee Benoit and his wife, Valerie Benoit, a bass player, had already arrived in New Orleans for the performance, but received a call after the accident and immediately started “the longest drive of our lives” to the hospital in Baton Rouge.
Maegen Benoit spent hours in surgery Wednesday while doctors reconstructed her right hand and wrist, while Rosemary Benoit was hospitalized briefly with only minor injuries.
Yancy Guerin, chief deputy coroner for West Baton Rouge Parish, said investigators will perform an autopsy on Xander’s body soon, but in the meantime he expects the cause of death will be multiple blunt force trauma.
Guerin said he gave consent for organ donation Thursday afternoon, allowing the family to move forward with their plans. That decision could save multiple lives, Guerin said. “A child is going to die if they don’t get that transplant. This is very important — not to enhance someone’s life, but to save it.”
Lee Benoit said he has found solace thinking about those lives.
He remembers his grandson as “really smart — like a sponge — and spoiled rotten” by his grandparents.
“We spent a lot of time together,” Benoit said, his voice cracking on the phone. “He would always tell me, ‘Pawpaw, you’re my best friend.’ … I just hope he didn’t feel nothing in the end. I hope he didn’t even know what hit him.”
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