Bus driver found guilty of negligent homicide in firefighter Chauvin’s death, 2 others

Published 5:19 pm Thursday, January 11, 2018

EDGARD — Denis Amaya Rodriguez was found guilty Thursday of three counts of negligent homicide, one of the victims being St. John the Baptist Parish District Fire Chief Spencer Chauvin.

Sentencing is scheduled for noon April 9.

Chauvin, 36, was killed Aug. 28, 2016, when Rodriguez drove a bus into an active wreck scene on Interstate 10 near LaPlace.

Spencer Chauvin

Chauvin, who was on the scene in first responder relief, was killed as a result of a series of collisions initiated by Rodriguez’s reckless driving.

Others killed included Vontarous Kelly, 33, who succumbed to his injuries four days after the crash, and Jermaine Starr, 21, who died on scene.

Kelly and Starr, each of Moss Point, Miss., were in a Toyota Camry that was caught up in the wreck.

Rodriguez contended the bus had faulty brakes, but three days of trial in Edgard proved otherwise for the six-person jury that operated in the 40th Judicial District Courtroom of Judge Sterling Snowdy.

Rodriguez, a Honduran national in the United States illegally, was operating the bus en route to Baton Rouge with more than 30 passengers on board.

Prosecutors stressed Rodriguez disregarded emergency vehicles and flashing warnings in approaching the initial crash scene. A Louisiana State Police report also indicated the bus’ brakes were working.

The defense maintained Rodriguez was the “scapegoat” for a bus that did not meet federal standards.

State Police said the deadly crash began when authorities responded to Interstate 10 near LaPlace to a single-vehicle wreck involving a Nissan Titan that struck two guardrails and came to rest across the right lane and right shoulder at approximately 6:40 a.m.

Authorities responding to the scene included State Police and St. John the Baptist Parish Fire Department personnel.

At approximately 7:11 a.m., State Police said, a bus driven by Rodriguez approached the crash scene at a high rate of speed before striking a fire truck, then a Toyota Camry, pushing the Camry into the rear of a Chevrolet Silverado and flatbed trailer.

The bus then veered between a trooper’s unit and the Titan before striking three firefighters standing near the guardrail, throwing each over the edge of the elevated interstate into the water below, more than 30 feet down.

Chauvin, one of the firefighters, was pronounced dead at a St. John hospital.

Starr, a rear seat passenger in the Camry, was pronounced dead on the scene.

Kelly, the Camry’s front seat passenger, died four days later.

— Stay with L’OBSERVATEUR as coverage of the case continues.