St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran was slapped with impaired-driving charges Friday after he failed to complete a diversion program that has kept him from being prosecuted since his arrest in Kenner more than a year ago.
Cochran, who could face jail time if convicted, said in a statement he decided to drop out of the program so he could undergo medical procedures for injuries he suffered in a separate motorcycle accident last year.
The program he started in February 2018 requires participants, each time they want to drive, to blow into a device that prevents intoxicated people from starting cars. They also must undergo counseling, take drug and alcohol tests and meet with a Mothers Against Drunk Driving panel.
Participants usually have only six months to complete the program or face charges. But it appears Cochran received more time after he was thrown off a motorcycle that he was teaching his daughter how to drive in April 2018. The parish president was hospitalized with broken bones and missed some time from work. He and his daughter, who had minor injuries, were cited for traffic violations following the accident.
"This decision did not come lightly," Cochran said of leaving the diversion program. "However, it is one that I needed to make, so I can take ownership of the incident, allowing me and my family to move past it, and to also finish receiving medical treatment needed to fully recover."
Cochran was arrested for intoxicated driving on Sept. 2, 2017, when Kenner police stopped him near his secretary's home after receiving a call that his Chevy Tahoe was swerving and going onto the neutral ground on Joe Yenni Boulevard.
An officer at the scene said Cochran performed poorly on a field sobriety test and had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. He was also accused of making unusual remarks, telling officers, “I guess this means I should fill out my resignation papers,” and biting off the mouthpiece of a device used for breath alcohol tests.
While the breath test administered to Cochran did not detect any alcohol, Kenner police suspected he was on drugs and booked him on counts of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving. The results of a blood test showed the presence of oxycodone, hydrocodone and oxymorphone, all prescription drugs.
Wiley Beevers, an attorney who represented Cochran at the time but has since died, said the parish president had been prescribed two of the drugs because of surgeries. Oxymorphone is a byproduct of oxycodone, said Beevers, who asserted that Cochran had stopped taking the medications for several days before the traffic stop and had not been driving recklessly.
Cochran was released from jail soon after his arrest due to overcrowding.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office spokesman Paul Purpura said Friday he couldn’t comment on the charges, citing a policy against discussing open cases. But participants in the pre-trial diversion program Cochran was enrolled in are only charged when they fail to complete the regimen.
Only two of the nine St. Charles Parish Council members could be reached Friday. One, Councilman Paul Hogan, immediately called for Cochran's resignation.
“It is about time we hear something about this case that many of my constituents believed had been swept under the rug,” Hogan said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that Parish President Cochran failed to take advantage of the opportunity that he was provided to address the poor decision he made the night he was arrested.”
Hogan, who has been an outspoken critic of Cochran's, also complained about the parish president's decision to enter an expensive lease for a parish boat launch, said Cochran had an overall “lack of transparency” and said he repeatedly failed to communicate with the council on business matters.
“I would hope that Parish President Cochran would see the damage he has inflicted on our parish on numerous levels and that he would come to the realization that our parish would be better served if he were to step down from office,” Hogan added. “Should that not occur, the residents of our parish will have the opportunity to take action as they see fit in the upcoming election this year.”
Councilman Terrell Wilson, the only other council member to return a call, said he was caught off-guard by the news and didn’t know enough about the charges to comment on them.
Cochran, who previously served as the Parish Council chairman and was elected parish president in November 2015, is up for re-election in October. He has previously resisted calls to resign following his arrest. On Friday, he said St. Charles Parish government "will continue to conduct business as usual."
Hogan said he didn't plan on drafting a formal resolution asking for Cochran's resignation. It wasn't clear if any other council members would, or if it would have the votes to pass. Even if it did, it would be non-binding, according to political analyst Clancy DuBos.
“It doesn’t have the force of law, but it does express their will,” DuBos said about such resolutions, adding that, in this case, “it would look very politicized as they come into election season.”
St. Charles is governed by a home rule charter, which mandates that the parish president step down if he is convicted of a felony. Cochran’s DUI was his first offense, so is a misdemeanor charge, according to the Jefferson Parish DA's Office.
Should Cochran refuse a call to resign, voters could attempt a recall, which would require a petition with signatures from 25 percent of the parish's qualified voters.
“A recall is very difficult in Louisiana,” DuBos said. “He’s up for re-election this fall, which is faster than a recall anyway.”
Cochran faces one count each of driving while intoxicated and reckless operation of a motor vehicle, according to the bill of information filed in Metairie’s 1st Parish Court. It is unclear if he has a new attorney. His arraignment is set for April 29.
"I am deeply sorry for the negativity or embarrassment that this has brought to our community, parish employees, and most of all to my family and friends," Cochran said.
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