- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

GONZALES, La. (AP) - An Ascension Parish jury has awarded $5.5 million in damages and found the state highway department bore most of the blame in a June 2014 crash that killed two siblings and injured their father when an SUV ran into them while they fished along the side of the road.

Shawnette Taylor plowed into 9-year-old Sarai Lanus, 6-year-old Daylon Lanus, their father, then-30-year-old David Lanus Sr. and two other adults after she lost control of her car in a curve on the two-lane Bluff Road near Dutchtown.

In a report on the June 24, 2014, crash, state troopers concluded Taylor veered too much to the right to avoid an oncoming vehicle that got close to the center line. Troopers said at the time that Taylor was driving at the 55 mph speed limit, was not intoxicated and was not using her cellphone.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/2fBfS9V) after three hours of deliberation Friday, jurors said that section of the road was “defective,” created an “unreasonable risk of harm” and state highway officials had knowledge of that. Jurors also found Taylor contributed to the crash.

Jurors placed 60 percent of the blame on the state Department of Transportation and Development and 40 percent on Taylor.

Eulis Simien Jr., the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said the 12-person jury sent a message to DOTD - a mandate for improved safety on state highways.

“We are very happy to have been part of having justice served on behalf of the Lanus family,” Simien said in a statement. “They can now hopefully begin the process of closure as the Louisiana Department of Transportation has been told by a jury that its dangerous and negligent design and maintenance of the roadway embankment at a popular site was the primary cause of this horrible accident and needs to be addressed before others are seriously hurt or killed.”

The jury awarded Shayla and David Lanus, of Geismar, a combined $4.4 million in damages over the deaths of their children, for the injuries to David Lanus and for separate damages for having come to the scene of crash shortly after their children’s deaths.

The jury also awarded Mitchell Johnson Jr., David Lanus’ cousin and a roofer who was also injured in the crash and has lingering leg injuries, $1.042 million.

DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said Monday the state Office of Risk Management has not decided whether to appeal.

If the judgment against the state stands, the state’s 60 percent share of the jury award - $3.3 million before interest - will have to be appropriated by the Legislature before any of the plaintiffs will be paid. In addition to DOTD and Taylor, Taylor’s auto insurer, Geico Casualty Co., was a named defendant.

In March 2015, Taylor pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor careless operation charge over the crash and was fined $175 in Ascension Parish Court. Peter Dudley, Taylor’s defense attorney, declined to comment Monday.

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


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