Jeffrey Blough’s 12 drunken-driving arrests, six drunken-driving convictions and current stint under parole supervision didn’t stop Louisiana’s criminal justice system from allowing him out of a police station for his second drunken joyride one night this month, ending in a crash that sent two people to the hospital with facial injuries and possible broken bones.
For years, officials have pushed for a more foolproof system to flag repeat DWI offenders like Blough.
But on March 19, the Denham Springs Police Department somehow failed to see in the state’s criminal background database that Blough, who’d just crashed his black Suburban and was intoxicated, the department said, had 11 DWI arrests to his name at that point.
Denham Springs police spokesman Glenn Lemoine said the department’s criminal history check revealed no DWI priors on Blough, of Denham Springs. But Blough had two previous DWI arrests in Denham Springs alone, according to records in Baton Rouge.
The Baton Rouge Police Department was able to access the state database showing Blough’s multiple DWI arrests, including the one just hours earlier in Denham Springs. Just after midnight March 20, Blough rammed a black Suburban into another automobile in Baton Rouge and caused it to flip over. It’s unclear if Blough was driving the same Suburban both times.
“There is one criminal history database for the state. Every law enforcement agency can query it, and it’s going to give the same information,” said Maj. Doug Cain, a spokesman for the State Police, which is the custodian of records in the automated system.
Lemoine, a detective who was working on a Denham Springs homicide Tuesday, did not respond to further queries about his department’s procedure in checking Blough’s history.
At the time of this month’s arrests, Blough was under state parole supervision after having been released from prison in 2014, said Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde. He was serving a sentence from a DWI conviction in 1998, she said.
The parole period was scheduled to end Sept. 23, Laborde said.
Though Blough has been convicted six times in Louisiana on DWI charges, most recently in 2004 and 2009, Laborde said the corrections database logged only four convictions, the latest one in 1998.
Family members of Blough’s, reached Tuesday, declined to comment. One of Blough’s former attorneys didn’t return a call Tuesday afternoon.
Blough has expressed in court documents, filed while he was incarcerated in 2000 on a DWI conviction, a desire to pay his “debt to society.”
“I would very much like to stop others from making the mistakes that I have made,” Blough wrote in 2000 in a letter addressed to the Livingston Parish chapter of the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
In the letter, Blough says he wanted to become involved in the group and says his imprisonment woke him up to his problematic drinking.
“This is a senseless, and very dangerous situation, and no matter if one drinks or not, if affects everyone who travels the streets and highways,” Blough wrote in the document, submitted as part of his motion to amend his sentence for a 1999 DWI conviction in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. The motion was denied.
Blough also said in those filings he began attending groups to address his alcohol and substance abuse addiction, as well as joining in activities focused on spirituality and life skills training.
Since that conviction, Blough was arrested four more times on DWI counts, including the ones this month, and was convicted twice.
In another wrinkle to Blough’s saga, he was one of the people who accused former St. Helena Parish Sheriff Ronald “Gun” Ficklin of forcing inmates to work without pay in an illegal car-repair operation.
Ficklin, who died in prison in 2011, was convicted in a federal court on 17 criminal counts in 2007 and admitted to using inmates as his personal race-car pit crew in an illegal “chop shop.”
Blough’s 2006 federal civil case against Ficklin, in which Blough argued he was subjected to slave-like conditions, was dismissed in 2008, but it’s how the parties resolved the case.
As of Tuesday evening, Blough was still in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in lieu of $63,500 bail. He’s being held on a count each of third-offense DWI, reckless operation, first-degree vehicular negligent injuring and vehicular negligent injuring.
Two of the four people inside the vehicle flipped by Blough’s Suburban suffered nonlife-threatening injuries, but authorities could not confirm the victims’ condition Tuesday, said Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Don Coppola.
Blough was “extremely intoxicated” with bloodshot eyes, reeked of alcohol and was speaking incoherently the second time he was arrested this month, according to a Baton Rouge police report.
He told authorities he’d had two beers and was taking multiple prescribed medications.
Lemoine, the Denham Springs police spokesman, did not fulfill requests for the Denham Springs police report or bond form in Blough’s March 19 arrest.
Blough now faces two possible prosecutions — each on fourth-offense DWI — in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes, said 19th Judicial District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III and 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott M. Perrilloux.
Each prosecution, if it were to occur, would use unique DWI priors by Blough as the predicate offenses.
State law does not delineate fifth- or sixth-offense DWI violations, noted East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Tracey Barbera.
The highest penalty is a fourth offense “or subsequent” offense violation of R.S. 14:98, the law governing driving rules, Barbera said.
Perrilloux said “it’s very, very uncommon” for someone to be caught twice on the same night for intoxicated driving.
“It’s clear the first arrest (by the Denham Springs Police Department) should have been for a multiple offense,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was modified on March 30, 2016 to correct two errors: Jeffrey Blough had 11 DWI arrests before his March 19 arrest in Denham Springs, and there were four people in the vehicle he collided with in Baton Rouge, two of whom were seriously injured.
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