An Orleans Parish grand jury on Wednesday handed up a slew of felony criminal charges against the man suspected of drunkenly plowing his car into a group of cyclists — killing two of them — on Esplanade Avenue shortly after the Endymion parade rolled nearby the night of March 2.

Tashonty Toney, 32, faces two charges of vehicular homicide as well as seven counts each of vehicular injuring and hit-and-run driving.

Toney is blamed for the deaths that night of 27-year-old Sharree Walls of New Orleans and David Hynes, 31, of Seattle. The other counts stem from a range of injuries police say he caused to seven other people cycling with Walls and Hynes in a designated bike lane. He also hit seven cars in the process, they said.

The crash prompted bike-safety advocates to renew demands that the city create more protected bike lanes and add other measures to make cycling on New Orleans streets safer.

Toney has been in jail in lieu of posting $510,000 bail since shortly after the wreck. The grand jury indicted him ahead of a two-month deadline for authorities to either charge him or release him from custody. 

Toney could face several years in prison if convicted as charged. 

His attorney, Ralph Whalen, couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

According to authorities, Toney hit the bicyclists and vehicles with his Chevrolet Camaro over a five-block stretch on Esplanade before crashing into the neutral ground and coming to a stop near North Dupre Street. Investigators estimate that he was traveling at more than 80 mph, District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ken Daley said.

Toney then allegedly ran away from his car shirtless and passed out. When he awoke, he asked bystanders to call his father, a New Orleans policeman, before he was arrested by officers, one witness said.

Police have claimed that Toney told them he had a drinking problem and should have gotten help before the crash, but he refused to take a breath-based alcohol test.

Nonetheless, investigators obtained a judge’s permission to draw blood from him. Tests later showed his blood-alcohol level was .14 percent — well over the state’s legal limit of .08 for drivers — at the time of the draw, according to authorities.

Police have argued that he actually was more inebriated than that at the time of the accident, and that his blood-alcohol content then was closer to .215. The need to get a judge’s permission to draw Toney’s blood caused a delay in performing the test by a few hours, and that allowed his body to metabolize some of the alcohol in his system, police said.

Experts say most people experience blackouts at .20 percent.

In the police report about the crash, one officer who encountered Toney at the police’s DWI office cited other clues which he said suggested Toney was severely intoxicated.

A red-eyed Toney had vomit in his beard and on his chin, the officer wrote. Allegedly, he was also missing his shoes, and his breath reeked of booze.


Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.