Alleged driver in deadly I-10 hit-and-run arrested in Alabama

Staff reports
Michelle S. Blankenstein

The driver who police said caused a fatal crash on Interstate 10 in Ascension Parish late Sunday night was arrested Tuesday morning in Saraland, Ala. after authorities located the vehicle she had stolen to flee the scene of the accident, State Police Troop A reported in a release.

Michelle S. Blankenstein, 28, was arrested after police found the Volkswagon Beetle she stole from a couple who stopped to aid those at the scene of the crash, troopers said.

State Police detectives learned that Blankenstein, who lives in Houston, was picked up by an acquaintance, David Smith of Lake Charles, who stopped at the Ramada Inn Hotel in Baton Rouge, according to the release. At the hotel, Blankenstein allegedly stole Smith’s vehicle, a Nissan Altima that was ultimately involved in the accident near the Hwy. 22 exit at Sorrento which killed Juan F. Molina, 24, of New Orleans.

Troopers said Smith reported the theft to Baton Rouge City Police and told investigating officers Blankenstein said she was trying to get to New Orleans.

Around 10 p.m. that night, Blankenstein reportedly crashed into a Ford F-150 truck in which Molina and six other adults and juveniles were riding. Police said Blankenstein was driving on the shoulder of the I-10 with no headlights and at a high rate of speed when she attempted to enter the right lane. She crashed into the truck, causing it to roll over multiple times, ejecting several passengers, while the Altima traveled into the median and struck a tree.

State Police detectives located the stolen Volkswagon in New Orleans near a residence owned by Blankenstein’s mother on July 28. The release said investigators determined Blankenstein had left New Orleans with her ex-husband, who is a truck driver, and the two traveled to Saraland where Alabama police officers located them at a Wal-Mart parking lot early Wednesday morning.

Local authorities took Blankenstein into custody based on arrest warrants issued by Louisiana State Police for charges of hit and run, one count of negligent homicide, six counts of negligent injuring  and unauthorized use of a movable, the release said.

Blankenstein will be extradited to Louisiana and booked into Ascension Parish on those charges.