Conner pleads guilty to charges from auto accident

Published 12:06 am Saturday, March 16, 2013

VIDALIA — Local pastor and Concordia Parish NAACP chapter president Justin Conner pleaded guilty to three charges including reckless operation of a vehicle Thursday involving a July auto accident.

The case became controversial after two Vidalia Police Department officers who worked the accident were placed on non-paid administrative leave while the VPD investigated if the officers responded properly. They were later relieved of duty as two of the 14 employees of the City of Vidalia laid off in August.

On July 22, Conner was cited for careless operation and for not wearing a seat belt after he reportedly crashed his vehicle into the foundation of a house under construction on Alabama Street, causing extensive damage to both the vehicle and the structure. At the time, Conner stated that the crash was due to exhaustion.

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A breathalyzer test was not performed at the scene.

In early September, the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed four charges against Conner for the incident, adding charges of driving while intoxicated and speeding to the citation given to him in July.

District Attorney Brad Burget said Friday he agreed to reduce the DWI charge to reckless operation if Conner testified in court that he had been drinking the night of the accident.

“Even though I believe Mr. Conner was intoxicated, I couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Burget said. “I was barred from doing so because Conner wasn’t arrested on those charges.”

Louisiana law lists various rules of privilege in criminal proceedings where a person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent another person from disclosing confidential information, such as medical records.

No such privilege exists under the article in a criminal case when the communication is a record of the results of a test for blood alcohol level or drugs taken from a patient who is under arrest, or who was subsequently arrested for an offense related to the test.

Since Conner was not originally charged with DWI and no breathalyzer was administered by the VPD officers, medical records from Conner’s trip to the hospital after the accident weren’t admissible, Burget said.

“That limited my ability to introduce further evidence of his intoxication,” Burget said.

Conner, 40, 210 Hayes Alley, Ferriday, was booked into custody at the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office Thursday on a court sentence to pay $271.50 in court costs for reckless operation, speeding and no seat belt.

Conner declined to comment on the specifics of the case but did say he was pleased with his day in court.

“It went well,” Conner said. “I’m satisfied.”