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BR woman pleads to lesser charge in driving death

Author(s): CHRISTOPHER BAUGIIMAN Date: October 19, 199') Section: News

A woman who faced up to 15 years in prison in a drunken-driving death pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge in exchange for the possibility of probation. Carol A. Person, 34, had been charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Todd Comeaux, Person pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, which carries up to five years in prison.

Person entered a best-interest plea. It has the same effect as a guilty plea, but means that Person does not agree with the prosecution's version of events. State District Judge Mike Caldwell ordered a pre-sentence investigation before he sentences Person in February. Person's lawyer, Tommy Damico, said Person can withdraw her guilty plea if Caldwell decides to send her to prison instead of ordering probation.

In court, prosecutor Jim Murray said Person was behind the wheel of her car on Jan. 31,1 997, when it ran through a vacant lot in the 12400 block of Coursey Boulevard, struck some chunks of concrete and shot through the air.

The car then clipped a corner of The Children's Ark day-care center and spun around, throwing both Person and Comeaux before smashing into another building.

Comeaux died at the scene. It was his 33rd birthday.

Person's blood-alcohol level was .16 percent, twice the legal limit when somebody dies in an alcohol-related accident, Murray said.

Police did not arrest Person until three months after the accident because they could not tell if she or Comeaux was driving her Nissan 300ZX.

Damico said Person does not remember the accident.

There was a good possibility that Person could win at trial, Damico said. It would have depended on experts' opinions on who was driving.

Person decided not to take the chance of being convicted and facing a mandatory prison sentence, Damico said.

"There's always a substantial risk when you try a criminal case," he said. "She chose not to take that risk."Murray, the prosecutor, said he agreed to the plea arrangement because it would have been a hard case to prove.

"It would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who was the driver of the car," he said.

Murray also said he had discussed the plea with Comeaux's family.

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