Tests show driver in Mardi Gras crash was legally drunk, police say
Neilson Rizzuto

A driver accused of injuring 28 people in New Orleans after plowing a pickup truck into a crowd watching a Mardi Gras parade had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit soon after the crash, police said on Sunday.

The suspect, identified as Neilson Rizzuto, 25, has been charged with two felony counts in the Saturday evening incident that brought chaos to one of the main events of the city's signature pre-Lent celebration.

Rizzuto's blood alcohol level was measured at 0.232, well above the 0.08 limit, about two hours after he was taken into custody on Saturday, New Orleans police spokesman Michael Tidwell said in an email.

Rizzuto was charged with two felony counts of vehicular negligence injuring in the first degree, hit-and-run driving and the reckless operation of a motor vehicle, according to a statement earlier on Sunday.

The truck driven by Rizzuto was traveling on the side of the street open to traffic along the parade route in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans when it struck three other vehicles, including a dump truck. It then veered onto the median where a crowd of people stood watching the procession, police said.

Police immediately apprehended the driver, who according to eyewitnesses interviewed by Fox television affiliate WVEU-TV, appeared disheveled, glassy-eyed and under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In a statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu referred to the suspect as a "drunk driver."

Video footage from the scene showed pandemonium immediately following the incident, but the Krewe of Endymion parade, the largest and most popular of numerous Mardi Gras season parades in New Orleans, continued with little or no interruption.

Of the 28 people injured, 21 were taken to local hospitals, including one police officer. Seven others who were hurt declined transport, Police Chief Michael Harrison told a news conference. Local media reports said 12 people were initially listed as critically injured.

A police spokeswoman said it was not certain when the suspect would make his first court appearance.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Orleans said its agents were "coordinating with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to determine whether a federal violation has occurred."

Last May, a 25-year-old woman with a history of mental illness drove a car into crowds watching a homecoming parade at Oklahoma State University, killing four people and injuring more than 40 others.

(Reporting by Catherine Koppel and Frank McGurty in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Alan Crosby and Peter Cooney)