Two people were struck by a car and killed and at least six others were injured in New Orleans on Saturday night by a motorist a witness said was so intoxicated he had to be revived after the crash, describing the man as "blind drunk."
New Orleans police said they had arrested the driver, though he was not immediately identified.
[Update: 4 a.m., Sunday, March 3: New Orleans police officer's son accused of drunkenly driving into 9 people, killing 2]
Police said the incident happened about 8 p.m. around the 3200 block of Esplanade Avenue, a few blocks away from where the superkrewe Endymion's parade passed.
The two victims pronounced dead at the scene were a man and a woman, each around 30 years old, New Orleans Emergency Medical Services Lt. Jonathan Fourcade said. Five others were taken to University Medical Center for treatment: a 56-year-old man, two 28-year-old women, a 62-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman. Three of those people were critically wounded, city officials said.
The eighth person struck, a 65-year-old man, declined to be taken to the hospital.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said most of the victims were bicyclists who were struck in between the 3200 and 3400 blocks of Esplanade, a busy corridor in the Bayou St. John neighborhood. The driver eventually came to a stop in the 2900 block of Esplanade, meaning his trail of destruction spanned at least five blocks.
Ferguson said paramedics, police and firefighters had arrived on the scene quickly and had found passersby giving aid — including CPR — to the victims.
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Cyclist Frank Rourk told The Advocate he saw a dark sports car spin out on the neutral ground of Esplanade. The driver jumped out of his car shirtless, ran to the corner of North Lopez and Bell streets, laid down on the sidewalk, and lost consciousness, said Rourk, who was pedaling in the bike lane on Esplanade and chased after the driver.
Rourk said he and two others managed to rouse the driver — who seemed extremely intoxicated — back to consciousness.
Rourk said he told the driver, “I’m pretty sure you’re the guy who wrecked the car. You better go back there.”
The driver responded by asking if he had killed anybody. He then said for someone to call his father and that his father was a policeman, Rourk said.
“This guy was trashed — blind drunk,” said Rourk, who initially did not realize any people had been hit. “If you talk to him in 24 hours, he’s not going to remember doing any of this.”
Rourk said the driver, whose pants were open, appeared to be in his 20s.
Ferguson said investigators were conducting blood and breath tests to determine the whether the driver was intoxicated. The driver had been taken to the hospital for an evaluation but would be booked upon his discharge, Ferguson said.
City officials also said at least three city-owned crime cameras had captured the incident, and investigators were on the hunt for more footage to track the driver's movements throughout the evening.
Meanwhile, neighborhood resident Jack Kane told The Advocate that he was walking to a grocery store on Esplanade and realized something awful had happened when he saw “a ton” of first responder vehicles lining the street.
He then noticed two people on the ground a couple of blocks apart – at least one of them in a stretcher.
Each of the people down were near mangled bicycles. One of the victims was across the street from what appeared to be a blue bicycle, resembling the ones that can be rented at hubs around New Orleans.
Kane said it frightened him to think that he could have been in the driver’s path if he had gone out earlier.
“It could just happen to anyone,” Kane said. “It’s really scary.”
Another onlooker, Dane Barrymore, was smoking a cigarette outside Canseco’s Market when he saw a dark sports car heading riverbound on Esplanade at a speed he estimated at 80 miles per hour. The driver got stuck behind a white vehicle, Barrymore said, so he veered the sports car into the bicyclists’ lane to try to pass the white vehicle on the right.
“It just happened there were people there – bicyclists,” Barrymore said. Barrymore said he saw two women and one man get struck.
Barrymore said he saw the driver of the sports car then speed up to what seemed to be 100 miles per hour, hit another car and then spin out on the neutral ground a couple of blocks away.
Barrymore said he scrambled to help whomever he could, but soon he realized neither the man nor one of the women survived after being hit.
“That’s definitely the worst accident I’ve seen,” Barrymore said.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell attended the evening briefing, offering a prayer and condolences to the families of the victims.
Emergency vehicles packed Esplanade as the night wore on Saturday. Despite the carnage, some people continued eating dinner at nearby restaurants. Others who were still wearing Carnival costumes walked or cycled on the side of Esplanade that was accessible to passersby.
The driver's wrecked car, which appeared to be a Chevrolet Camaro, remained on the neutral ground late Saturday. Its airbags were deployed, and its windshield wipers sputtered intermittently.
Though witnesses described the vehicle as headed riverbound on Esplanade, it eventually came to rest facing in the lakebound direction.
The incident was reminiscent of a horrific 2017 incident along the Endymion parade route, when an intoxicated Neilson Rizzuto plowed his truck into a crowd of people, injuring 32. Remarkably, no one was killed in that incident.
Rizzuto’s blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.232 percent, roughly three times the level at which a driver is presumed intoxicated. Rizzuto pleaded guilty to multiple counts of negligent injuring, though he served only about a year in prison.
Neilson Rizzuto, the man who plowed a truck into a crowd of spectators at the 2017 Endymion parade while driving drunk, was released from pris…
Saturday night's mayhem also occurred after the city had taken some steps aimed at improving the safety of cyclists sharing local roadways with motorists.
Despite those measures, many have argued that more is needed, including cycling activists who have erected white — or "ghost" — bicycles around the city at places where cyclists have been killed.