Man pleads guilty to vehicular homicide in death of dispatcher

A Metairie man who killed a New Orleans police dispatcher in a head-on collision on Interstate 610 last fall pleaded guilty Friday to vehicular homicide.

Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny sentenced Andrew Merchant Jr., 28, to 71/2 years in prison after he pleaded guilty as charged.

Merchant was arrested at the scene after Paulette Brown, 51, was fatally injured in the Sept. 7 accident.

Lisa Walker, Brown’s sister, said she was glad there was a fairly quick resolution to the case but that the sentence was less than she and other relatives would have liked.

“Seven-and-a-half years isn’t enough for him. I look at it like he’s going to get right back out and do it over,” Walker said. “When he talked to us, it was a cold, heartless person.”

Vehicular homicide carries a prison sentence of between five and 30 years upon conviction.

“It’s not going to bring my sister back if he did more time, but we would have felt better about it, because he’s not sorry for what he did,” Walker said. “It’s still a punch in the gut, because we looked for more (time in prison), but it is what it is.”

Merchant’s attorney did not return a call Friday.

Brown was driving west on I-610 about 10:30 p.m. in her Toyota Camry on her way to work when Merchant, who was driving his 2013 Jeep Wrangler the wrong way on the interstate, hit her head-on and struck at least one other vehicle near St. Bernard Avenue.

Brown, a 32-year veteran of the NOPD, was rushed to Interim LSU Hospital with broken bones and internal injuries and was placed on life support the next day. She remained on life support until her organs could be harvested.

Merchant was at first booked with DWI, reckless operation of a motor vehicle and violation of one-way traffic. He was rearrested on the vehicular homicide charge when a blood-alcohol test showed he was legally drunk at the time of the collision.

A blood sample found his blood-alcohol content was 0.25 percent when the crash happened, according to documents filed at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. The legal limit is 0.08 percent, meaning his alcohol level was three times the legal limit.