NEW ORLEANS — Ed. Note: The video above is from 2019.
A Louisiana appeal court has tossed out the 90-year-sentence for a drunk driver who struck nine bicycle riders near a Mardi Gras parade route in 2019, killing two of them.
The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said the judge who sentenced Tashonty Toney failed to sufficiently spell out the reasons for handing out the maximum sentences following Toney’s guilty plea. Therefore, the ruling said, appellate judges could not adequately review Toney’s argument that the total sentence was excessive.
The ruling, dated Wednesday, sent the case back to the criminal court in New Orleans for a “meaningful sentencing hearing.”
Blood tests showed Toney was driving with a blood-alcohol level of over .21 percent as he sped down Esplanade Avenue, which was busy with auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic after the popular parade of the Krewe of Endymion. Driving at speeds reaching 80 mph (129 kph), Toney veered at times into the bicycle lane, sending bicycles and their riders flying. He side-swiped other cars and eventually collided with another vehicle before coming to a stop in the median. He ran away but was followed and held by witnesses until police arrived, according to court records.
Sharree Walls, 27, and David Hynes, 31, died.
Toney pleaded guilty to 16 criminal counts, including two counts of vehicular homicide, each of which carried a maximum 30-year sentence. His plea agreement did not include a sentencing agreement. After a hearing that included emotional testimony from relatives of those killed, and from some of the injured, Judge Laurie White's sentence included maximum 30-year sentences on each of the negligent homicide counts, and six maximum 5-year sentences for vehicular negligent injuring, according to the appeal court opinion. While White ordered that some of the sentences for other counts be served concurrently, the total sentence for Toney was more than 90 consecutive years, 60 of them without the possibility of parole.
“Certainly, the pain and suffering caused by defendant’s actions are deserving of a harsh penalty of imprisonment,” the ruling said. “This Court also acknowledges that retribution and deterrence are worthy considerations when imposing sentence in a case such as this.”
But the opinion also noted that the 90-year-plus sentence was, in effect, a life sentence for Toney, 34. It said the trial court must hold a hearing where Toney's lawyers can present evidence. Then the court must give reasons if it again imposes maximum sentences on each count and requires that all sentences be served consecutively.