- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GONZALES, La. (AP) - A Prairieville woman who lost control of her car and hit and killed a brother and sister fishing alongside the highway pleaded no contest Wednesday to a careless operation charge.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/19lDcTF ) her head hung down and holding back tears while her attorney embraced her, Shawnette B. Taylor, 48, entered the plea before state District Judge Marilyn Lambert. She then sentenced Taylor to the maximum fine of $175, plus court costs.

Lambert told Taylor the crash was “tragic, tragic, tragic.”

Nine-year-old Sarai Lanus and her brother, 6-year-old Daylon Lanus, both of Geismar, died when Taylor’s car ran off the road and plowed into them, their father and two other adults June 24.

An Ascension Parish grand jury declined to indict Taylor on two counts of negligent homicide.

Under the no contest plea, Taylor does not admit or deny guilt but does not challenge the charge and agrees to accept the court’s sentence. The plea cannot be used against Taylor in any civil litigation over the crash.

In January, the parents of the Lanus children and one of the other adult victims in the crash sued Taylor and the state Department of Transportation and Development over the crash.

Assistant District Attorney Morgan Gravois said she could not comment about the case and referred questions to District Attorney Ricky Babin’s spokeswoman, Charlotte Guedry.

Guedry said the no contest plea had not been worked out in advance and was Taylor’s decision to enter. But Guedry also said the no contest plea was essentially the same thing as a guilty plea.

“Our job is to fight for the right of victim, but we also feel the prior situation was tragedy for everyone involved,” Guedry said.

Guedry added that, in light of the facts of the case, Babin and Lambert were satisfied that the careless operation charge would bring resolution to the case and that “justice has been served to some extent.”

After the sentence Wednesday, Lambert urged Taylor to try to move on from the crash.

Taylor’s attorney Peter T. Dudley said later that his client remains upset over the crash. He said Taylor’s family’s hearts go out for the Lanuses and others injured in the crash.

“It was just a tragic accident,” said Dudley, who is also representing Taylor and her insurer in the civil suits over the crash.

He noted his client was not on her cellphone nor intoxicated at the time of the crash and, according to a police report, was driving the speed limit.

No one from Lanus family nor those related to other victims in the crash spoke up when Lambert called for them before the plea Wednesday. But a woman who later identified herself as a distant relation of the Lanuses left the courtroom upset after the sentence. The woman, who was in court on another matter, declined comment once she had composed herself.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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