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Mother of suspect in fatal hit-and-run on Hale Boggs bridge arrested

State police say that Pebbles Johnson hid her son, Hunter Johnson, after the crash that killed 44-year-old Brady Ortego.
Credit: St Charles Parish

ST. CHARLES PARISH, La. — The mother of the suspect in a deadly hit-and-run crash on the Hale Boggs Bridge has been arrested for her alleged role in hiding her son from police inside a Houma hotel room.

Pebbles Johnson, 51, now joins her son Hunter Johnson, 22, and her mother, Marie Sally Dufrene, 73, as defendants in the case, State Police said.

Pebbles Johnson was booked with obstruction of justice late Tuesday after evidence revealed she “transported Hunter Mason Johnson from his grandmother’s residence to a hotel in Houma and assisted him in eluding capture,” according to a State Police press release.

Investigators say Hunter’s mother and grandmother jumped into action shortly after Hunter allegedly plowed into a construction zone on the Hale Boggs Bridge on Jan. 14, slamming into 44-year-old Brady Ortego and knocking him off of the bridge into the Mississippi River, resulting in his death. Ortego, whose body has not been found, was working on the bridge at the time of the crash. 

Dufrene was booked with obstruction of justice on July 5, accused of picking up Hunter near the crash scene and briefly hiding him at her home.

Hunter Johnson is facing charges of  vehicular homicide, DWI, hit-and-run, reckless operation and obstruction of justice. All three family members are free after posting bail, jail records show.

Johnson’s arrest warrant affidavit issued by the State Police investigators documents a night of drinking by Johnson and a friend at Hooters in Metairie. The affidavit states that Johnson bought 18 shots of liquor in three hours, drinking at least nine-and-a-half of them himself. Investigators say video shows Johnson staggering and vomiting before being helped out of the restaurant.

An Eyewitness News investigation showed that Johnson had a rap sheet that included several arrests, including a civil lawsuit and police report of a 2016 hit-and-run incident, when Johnson was a juvenile, that left a man badly injured.

Attorneys for Hunter Johnson and his family have not responded to calls for comment.

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