Driver whose car killed Ironman triathlon entrant indicted

An Orleans Parish grand jury has handed up a two-count indictment against the Gretna man whose car struck two men cycling along Chef Menteur Highway last month, killing one of them.

Howard Vidrine, whose driver’s license was suspended at the time of the April 11 accident, was charged Thursday with one count of negligent homicide in the death of Frank Guinn, a fireman from Atlanta, and one count of negligent injury in hitting Andrew Powell, Guinn’s brother-in-law.

The two men were training that Friday morning for the 70-mile Ochsner Ironman triathlon that weekend when they were struck from behind and thrown into the air.

Vidrine, 33, told investigators after the accident that he was driving 40 to 45 mph when Guinn and Powell, who were riding side by side in the right eastbound lane, swerved in front of him.

But investigators said the victims’ injuries and the damage to Vidrine’s Chevrolet Cruz suggested he was driving much faster, and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s announcement of the indictment Thursday said Vidrine “was traveling at a high rate of speed.”

Vidrine was arrested the same day and held on $250,000 bail, though that was reduced on April 28 to $110,000.

In a Thursday announcement, Cannizzaro criticized Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo for freeing Vidrine on Monday on a property bond without the approval of the DA’s Office.

Cannizzaro said the law and routine procedure call for the DA’s Office to make sure there is sufficient equity in the property put up for bond but that Marullo didn’t do so in this case.

“Our criminal justice system will function properly only when every actor in the system respects the law and procedures,” Cannizzaro wrote. “No defendant should be entitled to special treatment.”

Marullo, however, disagreed.

“The judge is of the opinion that the district attorney doesn’t have the authority to authorize the property bond; the judiciary makes that decision. The district attorney can always contest,” said Frank Marullo III, the judge’s minute clerk and son.

In this instance, the younger Marullo said, Vidrine’s attorney, Pat Hand, tried for hours to contact the assistant district attorney responsible for signing off on the bond.

When the prosecutor couldn’t be reached, the judge went ahead and ordered the bond approved. The prosecutor turned up later, and “I personally walked him down to the magistrate clerk’s office so he could be given the document to view,” Frank Marullo III said.

“He decided evidently not to sign it. I don’t know why,” he said. “If they would have contested it, they could have come back to court and had a hearing. They had the opportunity. If he saw something blatantly wrong, he could have brought it to our attention, and we would have handled it.”

He said there was time to take up the issue in court that day or the next day, before Vidrine’s release.

Vidrine was taken back into custody Thursday morning and is being held on $600,000 bail set by Criminal Court Judge Karen Herman: $500,000 on the negligent homicide charge and $100,000 on the negligent injury charge.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.