EDGAR, LA (WDSU) – Denis Amaya-Rodriguez was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for killing three people.
Rodriguez was driving a bus that crashed into a group of firefighters and multiple vehicles the Interstate 10 bridge in LaPlace on Aug. 28, 2016. St. John District Fire Chief Spencer Chauvin, Jermaine Starr and Vontarous Kelly were all killed. Starr and Kelly were passengers in a car that was crushed by the bus. Chauvin died after being thrown over the bridge, along with two other firefighters who were seriously injured.
Amaya-Rodriguez was sentenced Monday to five years in prison on each count of negligent homicide, which is the maximum sentence. In an unusual move, the judge ordered the sentences be served consecutively, sending Rodriguez to prison for 15 years, minus credit for time served. He was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and court costs.
Judge Sterling Snowdy told Rodriguez he posed too great a risk to the community to be released sooner.
At the sentencing hearing, a video of Chauvin’s two children, ages 8 and 6 was played for the judge, in which they talked about time they spent with their father and his favorite things. Chauvin’s son honored his father’s public service as a firefighter, and said, “The call he died in, he blocked the two other people. They survived, and he is in a better place.”
Chauvin’s widow, Jennifer, brought the courtroom to tears delivering an emotional and detailed statement. She recalled having to tell her son about the crash. He was 6 years old at the time.
Jennifer said, “’There’s been an accident,’ and I told him he’s never coming home again.”
She said it has been 1 year, 7 months and 13 days since Chauvin was killed and that their lives will never be the same.
“No matter how many years he gets, consecutive, concurrent, you know we have to live the rest of our lives without my husband, their son, her brother. My kids don’t have a father, so to me the sentence doesn’t matter, because my sentence, our sentence, is greater than any sentence he could ever get,” Chauvin said.
Rodriguez did not testify at his trial, but did address the judge, through an interpreter, before sentencing.
Rodriguez said, “I don’t consider myself truthfully guilty, but I do need to obey the laws.” He also talked about his faith and said he feels very bad for what happened.
During the trial in January, prosecutors argued that Rodriguez could have stopped the bus but didn’t. According to authorities, Rodriguez is an immigrant without legal permission to be in the country. He will face deportation after he is released from prison.
“After a conviction for negligent homicide, an individual would be subject to immediate removal,” Thomas Byrd, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said when Rodriguez was convicted.
Rodriguez still faces more than 40 outstanding misdemeanor charges related to the crash. Snowdy set a status hearing on those charges for May 14.
The site of the crash was dedicated to Spencer Chauvin in March and renamed the Spencer Chauvin Memorial Bridge.
“Our department made a promise that we will never forget Spencer or the sacrifices he has made for our community, and together, with his family and friends and the Parish President, we are keeping that promise,” said St. John Parish Office of Fire Services Chief of Operations, Cain Dufrene. “Spencer was a remarkable firefighter and selfless servant, and it is only fitting that we memorialize him near the scene where he gave his life. We hope that everyone driving in and out of our Parish thinks of Spencer when they see that sign and his heroic dedication to St. John and the Fire Department.”