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Local soccer player booked with vehicular homicide in New Orleans police officer’s death

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 in Local Issues, Sports, Traffic

By Ramon Antonio Vargas, The Times-Picayune January 21, 2010, 2:01PM celestain-off-duty.jpgEliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneAlfred Celestain practices for a police officer fund-raising music concert in 2004. Celestain died Jan. 11 from injuries he sustained during an on-duty car accident the morning of Jan. 9. The local former soccer player accused of driving drunk, crashing into a New Orleans police car and killing a veteran officer early Jan. 9 was jailed Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, the officer's family scheduled a private funeral Mass Friday at St. Louis Cathedral. Gino Ray, 24, was booked with one count of vehicular homicide in the death of 8th District officer Alfred Celestain Sr., 54, according to Criminal District Court records. Investigators waited 11 days to arrest Ray because of a routine, but labor-intensive, fatality probe that required the reconstruction of the accident scene, said officer Janssen Valencia, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman. A judge on Wednesday afternoon set the 24-year-old's bond at $15,000. Ray, a project manager for a local roofing company and ex-player for the former New Orleans Shell Shockers, paid it and was released Thursday, jail records show. Police accuse Ray of speeding past a red light at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and St. Joseph Street in the Central Business District about 4:30 a.m. His 2009 Dodge Ram plowed into the passenger side of a patrol car that rookie NOPD officer Cordae Hankton drove. Celestain, Hankton's field training officer, sat in the passenger side. The collision left the veteran trapped inside the mangled cruiser, a police report filed in court said. Emergency responders later extricated Celestain. Paramedics took him and Hankton to LSU Interim Public Hospital for treatment. Meanwhile, the officer investigating the accident approached Ray, smelled "a strong odor of alcoholic beverage," and had him moved to the NOPD's driving-while-intoxicated office. The report said Ray failed a field sobriety test there and registered a .13 blood-alcohol level on a breath test, over Louisiana's limit of .08. Ray, of the 1400 block of Constance Street in New Orleans, was originally booked with DWI, driving without a seatbelt, reckless driving and disregarding a red light. At the hospital, Hankton survived with minor injuries. But Celestain -- a father to children ages 32, 24 and 4 -- died at 9:15 p.m. Jan. 11. He received treatment for fractured ribs, hip displacement, small facial injuries and a brain injury. He appeared to be fine but slipped into a coma, said Dr. Frank Minyard, the Orleans Parish coroner. Celestain's relatives opted to remove him from a life-support system doctors put him on when he lost consciousness. Detectives obtained a vehicular homicide arrest warrant Tuesday. Ray surrendered to deputies at Orleans Parish Prison at 8:30 a.m. the next day, records show. gino-ray.jpgMichael DeMocker / The Times-PicayuneGino Ray, in black, plays for the New Orleans Shell Shockers in 2007. He was booked Jan. 20 with vehicular homicide in the death of police officer Alfred Celestain. If Ray is eventually convicted of vehicular homicide, he could spend between five and 30 years in prison. However, Louisiana law would allow him the possibility of parole three years into any imposed sentence because his blood-alcohol content was less than .15 Ray expressed remorse during a telephone interview with The Times-Picayune the day after Celestain died. "I am really sorry for both (of the officers') families," he said. Valencia noted that Ray cooperated fully with the investigation. Celestain joined the NOPD in 1989. His brave actions during various gunfights won him honorable citations, medals and a reputation as one of the department's most street-tested veterans. Toward the end of his career, the NOPD's brass tasked him with teaching rookies how to survive their beats. A funeral Mass will be said Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. He will be buried at Lake Lawn Park Cemetery, according to his obituary in The Times-Picayune.

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