CLINTON -- It was an emotional day in court Tuesday when Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael sentenced Brett Gerald, 30, to 70 years in prison for killing seven people in a drunk driving crash May 30, 2012, in Slaughter.
Gerald, who pleaded guilty to seven vehicular homicide counts last December, was also fined $14,000 and ordered to enter a substance abuse program.
As a result of Gerald's guilty pleas, he faced a maximum of 210 years behind bars, five-to 30-year prison sentences on each count of vehicular manslaughter.
Gerald must serve a minimum of 35 years without the benefit of probation or parole.
In court, Gerald fought back tears while asking forgiveness from the families of his victims, saying he was deeply sorry for their loss and would trade his own life if it meant bringing back the seven victims.
Gerald, who lived in Greensburg, was charged after his 2007 Dodge truck collided with a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis as it was traveling on La. Hwy. 67 (Plank Road) near Zachary, about one mile south of the Comite River.
All seven passengers but one were from the Gaines family and all hailed from Baton Rouge. The group was returning home from bible study services at a Clinton church when the head-on collision with Gerald occurred.
Police believe Gerald had been out celebrating his 30th birthday.
Five of the passengers died instantly. They were: Brenda Gaines, 62, a grandmother who was driving her daughter Denise Gaines, 33, and Denise's four children, Jyran Johnson, 6; Diamond Johnson, 12; Rogerick Johnson, Jr., 13; and Willie Gaines Jr., 15. Also in the vehicle was a fellow church member, Angela Matthews Mosley, 36.
Willie Gaines and Rogerick Johnson Jr. were critically injured in the crash, but both died days later. Willie Gaines was taken off life support June 1 and on June 3, his organs were donated to several recipients.
Rogerick Johnson was in a New Orleans hospital when he died June 15.
A Louisiana State Police trooper who investigated the crash, testified in court that a blood-alcohol sample taken the evening of the crash at Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary, showed Gerald’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) to be 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit.
A BAC of 0.08 percent in Louisiana is considered a presumption of drunken driving.
Prior to the May 30 fatal crash, Gerald had been arrested for three other DWI incidents but received only one conviction.
Police records show Gerald was arrested in 2008 in East Feliciana for a DWI, but served no jail time. Last spring in Denham Springs, Gerald received another DWI, which he served 48 hours for in jail.
Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he could not prosecute Gerald on the 2008 DWI charge because his urine tested negative. However, Gerald admitted to a state trooper he had been drinking Miller Lite beer.
D’Aquilla said even with a valid admission, prosecutors still have to prove the blood alcohol level is above the legal limit. “If he had a good valid DWI, we would have prosecuted him on a valid DWI. Unfortunately, we had problems because he refused a lot of stuff, and we are not going to go into court unprepared,” D’Aquilla said.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Gerald's family gathered with the Gaines and Mosley relatives and they cried together. Members of Gerald's family apologized for what their loved one did, saying they pray for the victims and their relatives every day.