Tashonty Toney, the man who killed two people and injured seven others after being suspected of drunk driving in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, had gone for a night out to celebrate his 32nd birthday before causing the tragic accident late Saturday night, family members said.
Shirley Grimes, Toney's 84-year-old grandmother, told The New Orleans Advocate that her grandson works at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and that he typically spends his free time with his sister's children.
She added that she didn't know Toney to be "a drinker," and that she had been shocked to find out he was the man behind the wheel of the deadly crash.
"It's like I'm in another world, like I'm dreaming," Grimes said. "Tashonty is a very good person, he's a considerate person. He’s a humble person and he’s a hard worker."
However, New Orleans police said Sunday Toney told an officer arresting him, "I have a drinking problem" and "I should have gotten help."
Toney refused to take what is commonly referred to as a Breathalyzer test, but police obtained a warrant to draw his blood and test it for the presence of drugs and alcohol, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court records said.
Court records said police also smelled alcohol on his breath.
On Sunday, he made a bond appearance in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, where Judge Jonathan Friedman set a bond for him at $510,000.
Debra Toney, Tashonty's mother, said her son had grown up in New Orleans and attended Marion Abramson High School until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. After that, the family relocated to California for a stint before returning home to New Orleans.
Records indicate Tashonty Toney enrolled at Tulane University but didn't finish. His mother said he had been working since he was 15, and that he has held his job at the Convention Center for five years.
Debra Toney also said she was "in shock" about her son's involvement in Saturday's deadly crash. She described him as a family man who had taken care of her, financially and otherwise, when she was suffering from breast cancer two years ago and couldn't work.
Can't see video below? Click here.
"I think I'm still in a state of shock," she said. "This is so surreal to me."
Toney didn't appear to have any prior criminal record, a records search shows. He faces two counts of vehicular homicide, seven counts of vehicular negligent injuring, hit-and-run and reckless operation, New Orleans police spokesman Andy Cunningham said in a news release early Sunday.
City officials had initially said there were a total of eight victims in the incident that unfolded along five blocks of Esplanade Avenue about 8 p.m. But a ninth victim later sought out medical help after being encouraged to do so by public safety officials, according to Cunningham.
Investigators believe Toney was intoxicated when he drove into the victims about 8 p.m., and witnesses reported he was so inebriated he had to be revived. The majority of the victims were cyclists in between the 3200 and 3400 blocks of Esplanade, with Toney’s car coming to a stop in the 2900 block after crashing into the neutral ground.
Paramedics took a 56-year-old man, two 28-year-old women, a 62-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman to University Medical Center. Three of them were critically wounded.
A 65-year-old man who was hurt declined to be taken to the hospital. A ninth victim – whose age and gender weren’t immediately released – then took a private ride to the hospital.
Multiple witnesses said Toney was headed riverbound on Esplanade in a Camaro when he tried to pass another vehicle on the right. The sports car drifted into the cyclists’ lane and accelerated, reaching a speed one witness estimated at 80 mph.
After plowing into several people, the car struck Esplanade’s neutral ground, spun dramatically and came to a stop facing in the lakebound — or opposite — direction.
A witness -- cyclist Frank Rourk — told The Advocate he saw the man now identified as Toney jump out of his car shirtless, run to the corner of North Lopez and Bell streets, lay down on the sidewalk, and lose consciousness.
He said he and two others managed to rouse the driver back to consciousness, at which point he remarked: “Call my daddy — call my daddy. He’s NOPD.”
Debra Toney identified the driver's father as Reginald Cook. She said he had been a police officer for several years.
NOPD spokesman Andy Cunningham said in a release early Sunday that Toney’s being the son of an NOPD officer “does not change and will not impact our department’s investigation, which will be open and transparent."
Cunningham declined to share any information about Cook with The New Orleans Advocate, or to confirm his identity, saying only that the officer had "done nothing wrong."
On Sunday morning, Debra Toney said she couldn't stop thinking about the victims and their families.
"I just want to say, I’m so sorry this happened," she said. "I’ve been praying for them and I’ll continue to pray for them."