14-year-old dies in Ascension Parish crash

Published 3:43 pm Monday, February 28, 2022

Sorrento – Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on February 28, 2022, Troopers from Louisiana State Police Troop A began investigating a three vehicle fatal crash on Interstate 10 west of US Hwy 61 in Ascension Parish. The crash claimed the life of 14-year-old Zashawn Dawson of Baton Rouge, and resulted in the arrests of 24-year-old Emmanuel Ruiz of Pride, 22-year-old Tyler Melancon of Greenwell Springs, and 18-year-old Cartara Johnson of Baton Rouge.

The initial investigation revealed the crash occurred as Ruiz and his three passengers were traveling west in the right lane of Interstate 10 in a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. Melancon was a passenger in the Chevrolet. At the same time, 21-year-old Arnold Smith of Baton Rouge and his five passengers were stopped on the right shoulder of Interstate 10 in a 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe. Dawson and Johnson were passengers in the Hyundai. After momentarily stopping on the right shoulder, Smith proceeded to merge into the right lane of Interstate 10 and began traveling west. After entering the right lane, the Chevrolet struck the rear of the Hyundai. After being struck by the Chevrolet the Hyundai overturned and exited the right side of the roadway. Dawson was ejected into the left lane of Interstate 10 as the Hyundai was overturning.  After being ejected, Dawson was subsequently struck by a westbound 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Dawson was unrestrained at the time of the crash and sustained fatal injuries. The remaining occupants of the Santa Fe sustained minor injuries and their restraint use remains under investigation. The four occupants of the Chevrolet also sustained minor injuries and their restraint use remains under investigation. The driver of the Hyundai Sonata was properly restrained and was not injured. As part of the ongoing investigation, toxicology samples were obtained from Smith and the driver of the Hyundai Sonata for analysis.

During the course of the investigation, Troopers discovered that Johnson was in possession of a stolen firearm. Troopers arrested and booked Johnson into the Ascension Parish Jail for violating LRS 14:69.1 Illegal Possession of Stolen Firearms.

As Troopers were processing the scene and documenting witness statements, Melancon initially told Troopers he was driving the Chevrolet at the time of the crash. Through further investigation, it was discovered that Ruiz was in fact the driver of the Chevrolet. Troopers observed Ruiz displayed obvious signs of impairment and placed him under arrest. After obtaining a toxicology sample from Ruiz, Troopers booked him into the Ascension Parish Jail for violating LRS 14:32.1 Vehicular Homicide, LRS 14:39.1 Vehicular Negligent Injuring (8 counts), LRS 14:130.1 Obstruction of JusticeLRS 14:98 DWI (1st Offense), and LRS 32:52 No Driver’s License. Melancon was also arrested and booked into the Ascension Parish Jail for violating LRS 14:130.1 Obstruction of Justice.

Time and time again, Troopers witness preventable motor vehicle crashes. Impairment and lack of seat belt usage are primary causes of crashes across the state of Louisiana. Nearly half of the fatal crashes in Louisiana are caused by impaired drivers. Louisiana State Police urge motorists to have a plan in place that includes a designated driver when consuming alcohol. Alcohol can impair visual ability, alter sense of time and space, impair fine motor skills, and decrease reaction times. Alcohol can begin to impair a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle after just one drink. Please choose to not drive impaired or ride with an impaired driver, and always buckle up.