A New Orleans police officer suffered a massive brain injury after being struck by a suspected drunken driver early Sunday on Interstate 10, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
Officer Natasha Hunter, 31, was inside her police vehicle on the side of the highway with the emergency lights on when another vehicle slammed into her cruiser, Harrison said.
The incident occurred about 2:30 a.m. on eastbound I-10 near the Esplanade Avenue exit.
This was the third time in three years that an NOPD officer was struck on an expressway in the city in the aftermath of an accident. The first two victims died.
Hunter, a 12-year veteran of the police force with a 5-year-old daughter, was taken to a hospital in “grave condition,” Harrison said. He said she was in a “non-responsive” state.
“This hurts like hell,” Harrison said during a news conference late Sunday morning.
He said Hunter was at the scene to help divert traffic after a multivehicle accident when she was hit. He said the other driver, who was not identified, admitted to police he’d been drinking. He will be arrested after being released from the hospital, Harrison said.
“I am incredibly saddened to inform you that one of our officers was severely injured this morning,” Harrison said at the news conference at NOPD headquarters.
He said Hunter was called to assist another officer at the scene of an accident and that flares were on the road, but that a vehicle plowed into her cruiser.
“The (driver) of that vehicle is right now in a local hospital and is in custody,” Harrison said.
“When he is released ... he is going to be arrested and charged with negligent vehicular injury. We suspect that he had been drinking. He had the odor of alcohol on his breath, and at some point he admitted to investigators that he had been drinking during the night,” Harrison said.
“This is so easily prevented,” he said. “People have a choice, and they make this choice. They don’t have to drink and drive. There are so many options.”
“She’s a great person,” Harrison said of Hunter. “I did not know her personally, but judging by the reaction of those who knew her, she is loved. This hurts.”
NOPD Officer Vernell Brown was struck by a car in July while investigating a vehicle fire on the Pontchartrain Expressway. Brown, a 17-year veteran of the department, died a week later.
Two years earlier, Officer Rodney Thomas was killed by a hit-and-run driver after he got out of his car to investigate a crash on the I-10 high rise in July 2013.
Also, Officer Daryle Holloway was fatally shot in June 2015 while transporting an inmate.
“Obviously, we’ve been here before,” Harrison said. “This hurts like hell, but we’re a resilient Police Department.”
Hunter’s injury was just one incident in a dangerous weekend for law enforcement officers around the state.
On Saturday, a Winnsboro Parish officer was killed during an early morning traffic accident while responding to a call.
Along another stretch of Interstate 10, a State Police trooper was injured Sunday as he was responding to an accident in St. Charles Parish.
State Police said the trooper was slowing down when he was struck from behind by a truck. The driver of the truck was found to be over the blood-alcohol limit and was arrested. The trooper suffered only minor injuries and was taken to a hospital.