It goes without saying that drinking and driving don’t mix. And, probably not the wisest choice to accept a drink from a stranger on the street. Ingesting anything with little knowledge of what it contains is reckless. The contents can be much stronger than anticipated, or laced with something life threatening. 25 year old Neilson Rizzuto learned this the hard way. On Saturday night, February 25th, Rizzuto rammed his vehicle into a crowd attending a New Orlean’s Mardi Gras parade. The celebration of Mardi Gras is held annually in Southern Louisiana. Celebrations are concentrated for about two weeks before and through Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The parade was put on by the Krewe of Endymion, and included a large array of floats, as well as a huge party hosted at the Superdome afterwards. With more than 3,100 riders, the Endymion parade is the largest with the most expansive crowd draw in Mardi Gras.
Rizzuto is currently being held on a $125,000 bond for reckless operation of a vehicle, as well as first degree negligent vehicular injuring, hit and run driving causing serious injury. Police discovered Rizzuto’s blood alcohol was three times the legal limit, registering at .232. This confirmed Police Chief Michael Harrison’s suspicion in a statement he issued Saturday evening, “We suspect that the subject is highly intoxicated.” An act of terrorism had also been originally suspected, but it turned out to be the result of a really bad night of drinking.
The celebration was cut short when Rizzuto initially ran into two cars at the intersection of Orleans and Carrollton avenues, spinning his pickup truck out of control and crashing into a group of people. At the tail end, he slammed into a city dump truck parked near an area for parade clean up, bringing the vehicle to a stop and preventing further injuries. In total, twenty one individuals at the celebration were rushed to seven nearby hospitals for emergency treatment. Among those injured were a police officer and a three year old. Luckily, none of the injuries appeared to be life threatening. The police officer was undergoing testing over the weekend to determine how extensive her injuries were, but Harrison says she’s in good spirits. According to authorities, after investigating, 28 people in total were found to be injured, three years old to those in their 40s.
If Rizzuto happens to make bond, Commissioner Robert Blackburn said he would be placed under immediate house arrest and forced to wear an ankle monitor. His mobility would be greatly restricted and Rizzuto would be completely prohibited from driving. Blackburn originally set his bail for 21 counts, adding up the number of injured individuals rushed in for emergency treatment. The amount would have likely been even higher if all accounts of injuries were taken into consideration.
In an interview, Rizzuto’s father said that his son is “a good kid.” He still cannot comprehend how this could have happened, but he did say he spoke with his son and was told Rizzuto was offered a drink from a stranger on the street. He blindly accepted, and that’s the last he remembers of the night.