NEW ORLEANS -- A company owned by a St. Tammany Parish constable and an Arkansas state representative hired the bus full of illegal workers that caused a fatal accident on Interstate 10 Sunday, and one of the workers with a particularly bad driving record was at the wheel.
WRS, an Arkansas company registered to three men -- including Eddie Schmidt, the elected Ward 4 constable for St. Tammany Parish, and David Wallace, a state legislator from Leachville, Ark. – had a man named Edgar round up potential workers. Wallace told The New Orleans Advocate that WRS hired a bus to take the work crew to a commercial job site in the Baton Rouge area.
Sources tell WWL-TV that the driver of the bus, Denis Amaya Rodriguez of Honduras, had been doing work for the man named Edgar and had been doing construction jobs over the last year for Schmidt’s company. They said Amaya was just one of several undocumented workers on that regular work crew and was not an experienced bus driver.
It’s unclear why Amaya ended up driving the bus and why the bus company, Kristina’s Transportation, did not provide a driver. Especially because Amaya’s driving record is particularly bad.
The Advocate reported that Amaya had been stopped for various moving violations at least five times in the last four years, always without a driver’s license. The state police had just cited him for driving without a license on Aug. 5, on I-10 at Clearview Parkway. He had been in at least one accident and has been fined hundreds of dollars in Jefferson Parish, paying in full each time.
Now he’s charged with two counts of negligent homicide, negligent injuring, reckless operation and driving without a license after Sunday’s crash killed St. John Fire District Chief Spencer Chauvin and Jermaine Starr of Moss Point, Miss., and injured 41 others.
WWL Legal Analyst Chick Foret said there are enhanced penalties for multiple offenses of driving without a licensed, but they are just fines. Undocumented workers can't get driver's licenses and often choose to drive without them without facing any consequences related to their immigration status.
"This whole issue is complicated by the illegal immigration status of these drivers," Foret said. "It is my opinion that as a result of this accident, the Legislature will take a close look at the possible penalties and perhaps will institute penalties other than those that are purely financial."
Wallace told The Advocate he didn’t know that this group of workers on the bus, which WRS was planning to hire, were illegal immigrants. In fact, he said WRS would not have hired them if they were not able to provide proper documentation of their legal status.
WRS hired a Jefferson party-bus company called Kristina’s Transportation to provide the bus. But a search of for-hire and transportation licenses in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans did not turn up any licenses for Kristina’s or its trade name, AM Party Bus.
Christian Lombardo is the registered owner of Kristina’s Transportation, but he did not return messages seeking comment Monday and nobody was home when WWL-TV went to the company address in Jefferson.
State police investigators are investigating both the bus company and the role of WRS, spokeswoman Melissa Matey said.
WWL-TV left messages for Schmidt, who has been on vacation in the Dominican Republic since Saturday, according to his ex-wife. A parish “litter patrol” vehicle was parked in his driveway in a gated subdivision in Mandeville on Monday.
Schmidt provided labor for many contractors in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. He was described as a “growth expert and serial entrepreneur” in a press release earlier this year from Labor SMART, an Atlanta company that provides “on-demand temporary labor.”