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Strong Detective Work by NOPD Traffic Division Leads to Convictions in Two Fatal Hit-and-Run Incidents

by Aaron Looney

October 21, 2016

Categories: On Duty

Topics: Good Police Work, Traffic Fatality/Hit and Run

Strong Detective Work by NOPD Traffic Division Leads to Convictions in Two Fatal Hit-and-Run Incidents

Two traffic incidents that occurred earlier this year and involved fatalities recently saw the suspect in each case receive convictions, thanks to the efforts of the NOPD Traffic Division’s Traffic Fatality Investigation Unit. These convictions include:

A hit-and-run fatality on February 9, 2016 at the intersection of Canal Street and South Gayoso Street. At the time of the incident, a rented 2016 Ford Escape driven by Brian Gray (DOB: 08-01-1997) was traveling northbound in the center lane of Canal Street. As Gray approached the intersection with South Gayoso Street, he came upon a vehicle ahead that began to slow. Gray steered into the right lane and, in doing so, fatally struck 53-year-old Brenda Gayton, who was crossing the street. After the contact, Gray fled the scene and stopped in a shopping center parking lot at the intersection of South Carrollton Avenue and Tulane Avenue, where he notified police of the incident. Traffic investigators interviewed Gray, detecting a noticeable odor of alcohol on Gray’s breath and finding a bottle of liquor lying near the vehicle. Gray informed police that the liquor bottle belonged to him. After administering a field sobriety test to Gray and finding Gray’s blood alcohol level at 0.172 percent, police placed Gray under arrest. On September 23, Gray pled guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and received a sentence of 13 years of hard labor for charges of vehicular homicide and 10 years for hit-and-run driving, with both sentences to run concurrent.

A hit-and-run fatality on June 9, 2016 at I-10 West and Bullard Avenue. At about 11:20 a.m., a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am traveling westbound on Interstate 10 was struck in the rear by a 2014 Nissan Maxima. After contact, the Pontiac then struck a third vehicle, a 2012 Dodge Ram 1500, as the Dodge was changing lanes to avoid the Nissan, which fled the scene. One of the occupants of the Pontiac, a 14-year-old female, was killed as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. After investigation, NOPD traffic fatality investigators developed James Thornton (DOB: 11-19-1975) as a suspect in this incident. On June 23, the NOPD Violent Offenders Warrant Squad (VOWS) arrested Thornton, who turned himself in to police, for charges including hit-and-run driving, reckless operation of a vehicle, three counts of negligent injury and one count of manslaughter. On October 14, Thornton pled guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor with no chance of parole or probation.

“These drivers are being held accountable for their actions as a result of the strong detective work completed by NOPD traffic investigators," said NOPD Chief Michael Harrison. "We will continue to work aggressively every day to prevent these incidents and to keep the roads safe for our residents and visitors whether they’re driving, cycling or walking.”