On Saturday morning, the Rev. John Pitzer was ordained as a priest at St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Baton Rouge. That evening, Pitzer found himself recovering in a local hospital.
Pitzer was hurt after a Nissan Maxima struck the rear of the Mercedes he was riding in.
The man sitting next to him in the back seat, George Mabon, 54, of Memphis, was killed.
Police believe the Nissan, which was heading south on South Acadian Thruway, ran a red light as it crossed North Boulevard and struck the westbound Mercedes. The driver of the Nissan, who was not identified, suffered injuries and was transported to the hospital along with Pitzer.
The driver may face charges depending on the outcome of an ongoing investigation; investigators are trying to reconstruct what happened and are awaiting the results of a blood test of the driver, said Sgt. Don Coppola, a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
The driver of the Mercedes, John Baur, 69, from suburban Memphis, did not go to the hospital but ended up in Parish Prison instead. He was booked on counts of first-offense DWI and reckless operation after failing a field sobriety test. His blood-alcohol level registered 0.13 percent, according to the arrest report. A blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving in Louisiana.
Baur was subsequently released on $3,000 bond.
Coppola said officers observed visible signs of intoxication. Baur’s arrest report says his eyes were red, his balance unsure and officers could smell alcohol on his person and on his breath.
Baur was transporting three passengers, one of whom remains unidentified.
For Pitzer, it was an awful end to a momentous day. A Catholic priest for most of his life, he was accepted into the Episcopalian Church in 2014. He works at St. James overseeing its center for spiritual formation. Saturday was the culmination of a long spiritual journey. The church posted a complete video online that night of the ordination ceremony, saying people from several states were in attendance. Less than an hour later, at 9:15 p.m., the accident occurred.
On Sunday morning, St. James broke the news to its congregants, both at church services and via social media. The church reported that Pitzer was “awake and oriented, although pretty ‘banged up.’ ” A follow-up report Monday morning says Pitzer, who suffered fractured ribs, “continues to improve, becoming more consistently alert and oriented.”
The church also created a special webpage for members to pray for Pitzer. As of Monday night, about 100 individuals had posted well wishes for the recovering clergyman.
Messages left Monday with St. James leaders seeking comment were not returned.
According to a short biography posted online, Pitzer, a native of Texas, became a Catholic priest, joining the Dominicans in 1994. Along the way, he worked and studied in several southern states. Pitzer lived for a time in Memphis, where two of the passengers in the Mercedes he was riding in were from, though it’s unclear how they knew each other.
In Memphis, Pitzer worked as director of The St. Martin de Porres Shrine and Institute, which is run by the Dominicans.
Baur, the driver of the Mercedes, is a professor of music composition and theory at the University of Memphis. Mabon, who died, was former vice president of human resources for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, Mabon was one of two airport vice presidents who abruptly left their jobs March 11.
Pitzer’s last position with the Dominicans was in New Orleans, where, according to the online biography, he “led numerous parish missions and retreats around the country” before opting in 2014 to leave the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church.