Louisiana State Police arrest suspected impaired driver in fatal Ascension Parish crash

Staff Report
Louisiana State Police released details of an Ascension Parish crash on Feb. 28.

Louisiana State Police reported a three-vehicle fatal crash on Interstate 10 west of U.S. 61 in the Sorrento area of Ascension Parish after 4 a.m. on Feb. 28.

The crash claimed the life of 14-year-old Zashawn Dawson of Baton Rouge, and resulted in the arrests of 24-year-old Emmanuel Ruiz of Pride, 22-year-old Tyler Melancon of Greenwell Springs, and 18-year-old Cartara Johnson of Baton Rouge.

According to a news release, the initial investigation revealed the crash occurred as Ruiz and his three passengers were traveling west in the right lane of Interstate 10 in a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado.

Police said Melancon was a passenger in the Chevrolet. At the same time, 21-year-old Arnold Smith of Baton Rouge and his five passengers were stopped on the right shoulder of Interstate 10 in a 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe. Dawson and Johnson were passengers in the Hyundai.

After momentarily stopping on the right shoulder, Smith proceeded to merge into the right lane of Interstate 10 and began traveling west. After entering the right lane, the Chevrolet struck the rear of the Hyundai. After being struck by the Chevrolet the Hyundai overturned and exited the right side of the roadway.

Dawson was ejected into the left lane of Interstate 10 as the Hyundai was overturning. After being ejected, Dawson was subsequently struck by a westbound 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Police said Dawson was unrestrained at the time of the crash and sustained fatal injuries. The remaining occupants of the Santa Fe sustained minor injuries and their restraint use remains under investigation.

The four occupants of the Chevrolet also sustained minor injuries and their restraint use remains under investigation.

The driver of the Hyundai Sonata was properly restrained and was not injured.

As part of the ongoing investigation, toxicology samples were obtained from Smith and the driver of the Hyundai Sonata for analysis.

During the course of the investigation, troopers discovered that Johnson was in possession of a stolen firearm. Troopers arrested and booked Johnson into the Ascension Parish Jail near Donaldsonville on a charge of Illegal Possession of Stolen Firearms.

As troopers were processing the scene and documenting witness statements, Melancon initially told troopers he was driving the Chevrolet at the time of the crash.

Through further investigation, it was discovered that Ruiz was in fact the driver of the Chevrolet. Troopers observed Ruiz displayed obvious signs of impairment and placed him under arrest.

After obtaining a toxicology sample from Ruiz, troopers booked him into the Ascension Parish Jail on charges of Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Negligent Injuring (eight counts), Obstruction of Justice, first offense DWI, and No Driver's License. Melancon was also arrested and booked into the Ascension Parish Jail for Obstruction of Justice.

"Time and time again, troopers witness preventable motor vehicle crashes," a spokesperson stated. "Impairment and lack of seat belt usage are primary causes of crashes across the state of Louisiana. Nearly half of the fatal crashes in Louisiana are caused by impaired drivers. Louisiana State Police urge motorists to have a plan in place that includes a designated driver when consuming alcohol. Alcohol can impair visual ability, alter sense of time and space, impair fine motor skills, and decrease reaction times. Alcohol can begin to impair a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle after just one drink. Please choose to not drive impaired or ride with an impaired driver, and always buckle up."