Trial set for accused drunk driver who hit cyclists, killing one

Joseph Branch (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Joseph Branch (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An October trial date has been set in the case of an alleged drunk driver who hit two bicyclists on Perkins Road two years ago, killing one of them.

Joseph Branch had nothing to say as he walked out of 19th Judicial District Court on Monday after his court date was set.  He is accused of crashing into Nathan Crowson and Danny Morris with his car as they rode their bikes down Perkins Road on January 21, 2012. Crowson was killed. Morris was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Prosecutor, Julie Collins, said Morris is still recovering.

"Danny Morris is physically broken. He's suffering," Collins said.

Police said Branch had a blood alcohol level of .307, nearly four times the legal limit, at the time of the crash. His attorney, DeVan Pardue, believes the machine used to test branch's BAC may have given investigators an inaccurate reading.

"This is a machine that is in a van that they move around and goes to different places. It's by the Pennington Center. There's all kinds of radio activity and radio waves that could have affected the results," Pardue said.

"That intoxilyzer was working exactly like it should have. It has routinely been re calibrated, re certified. The operators have been certified," Collins said.

The defense attorney pointed out in court Monday that results show the two victims allegedly had marijuana in their system at the time of the crash.  Prosecutors confirmed that fact but said that does not weaken their case.

Pardue stated in court the two bicyclists tested positive for marijuana, which he believes begs the question, "Who actually caused the crash?"

"It tells us we need to go back and check the history to see if this is something they did randomly by riding down the road smoking a joint, or did they hand it back and forth? Was there a blunt sitting on the side of the road," Pardue explained.

Collins said just because Crowson and Morris may have tested positive for marijuana does not mean they were high when they were hit. She believes the defense is using the information as a tactic to delay Branch's trial.

"We are not trying to hide anything but I think the defense efforts at this point are getting a little bit beyond the scope of what's relevant," Collins said.

Branch is charged with second offense DWI and vehicular homicide.

A hearing is scheduled for June 30, 2014.

Branch's trial has been set for October 14, 2014.

Crowson was pronounced dead at the scene. Morris was in the hospital for nearly a month due to the injuries he suffered in the crash.

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