New Orleans man sentenced in deadly crash

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009


EDGARD — A New Orleans man received an 18-year prison sentence Monday for causing a three-car accident on Interstate 10 in Laplace that killed an 8-year-old girl and injured 10 others while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

District Court Judge Mary Hotard Becnel said Robert Newman Jr., 53, will serve eight years of the sentence behind bars — one year for every year in the life of Grace Gary, who was killed in the crash. Becnel suspended the remaining 10 years of the sentence.

Before the sentencing was carried out, Newman expressed his remorse toward the family of Grace Gary, who were present in the courtroom.

“I pray for you guys everyday that you can find peace in your life,” Newman said. “No words can express my sympathy.”

At a court appearance on May 6, Newman pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular homicide, seven counts of first-degree vehicular negligent injuring and two counts of vehicular negligent injuring in connection with the March 16, 2008, crash. Becnel said Newman must turn himself in to begin his sentence by Monday of next week.

According to a State Police report on the accident, Newman was traveling eastbound on I-10 near the Belle Terre interchange when his truck crossed the median and entered the westbound lanes. The truck struck the driver’s side back door of a 2004 Honda Odyssey van driven by Mona Gary of Baton Rouge. Grace, Gary’s daughter, was riding in the left rear of the minivan. She was taken to River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace, where she succumbed to her injuries.

After hitting the van from the side, Newman’s truck then struck a 2007 Dodge Caliber SUV head-on. The accident tied up traffic on both sides of the interstate for more than four hours.

Ten people riding in the three vehicles were injured, including two passengers riding with Newman. Newman was booked into St. John Parish jail on charges of vehicular homicide and driving under the influence. He was released on March 28, 2008, after posting bond.

Results of a toxicology report showed that Newman’s blood alcohol content at the time of the wreck was .13 percent, almost twice the legal limit in Louisiana of .08 percent, said Trooper Joseph Piglia. Newman was also under the influence of cocaine and two types of prescription medications.

Members of Newman’s family, who addressed the court during the proceedings, described Newman as a “stand up guy” and a “family man” who made a grave mistake behind the wheel.

Grace Gary’s parents, Mona and James Gary, explained how they have grown accustomed to living with the raw pain of not having their daughter with them.

“Her younger sister Emma still longs for her playmate,” James Gary said. “We still see that empty place at the dinner table where she’d sit.”

Becnel said she had spent many “gut-wrenching” hours struggling with the sentencing. She explained that she had read dozens of letters from both sides in the case either asking for leniency or justice in her ruling.

“My sentence was based on those thoughts and letters,” Becnel said. “As with most sentences, I expect that the defendant will find it too harsh, while the victims will find it not harsh enough.”

Newman is not eligible for parole until after he has served three years of the 18-year sentence. Once he is released, he will be on probation for 10 years. During probation, Newman must continue alcohol and substance abuse treatment.