BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – The family of a man who drowned during May flooding at the Bluebonnet underpass is suing the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and the Parish of East Baton Rouge.
Attorney Shannon Battiste who represents the family submitted a petition for damages for the wrongful death of her husband, Justin Thompson, according to court documents.
After heavy rainfall on May 17, the Bluebonnet underpass started flooding at around 9 p.m. and as a result, several vehicles attempting to drive through and got stuck. Multiple calls were made to local authorities to report stuck vehicles.
Hours later at 12:50 a.m. on May 18, Justin Thompson attempted to drive through the flooded roadway but ultimately was unable to get out and died, according to East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court documents. Thompson’s body was not found until after 10:30 a.m.
According to court documents, the family of Thompson is suing DOTD and EBR Parish for financial and emotional damages after failing to ensure safety on the roads during flooding, specifically the location on Bluebonnet where the drowning took place.
Eyewitness reports now give a glimpse of what happened the early morning of May 18th.
One of the witnesses who remains anonymous said, Thompson was trying to break the window when his car went into the flood waters, but was unsuccessful.
They said, they frantically called for help, but he still lost his life.
According to the attorney, the first 911 call about the Bluebonnet underpass flooding was made about four hours before Thompson drove into the water.
“Four hours was enough time for the city-parish or DOTD or whoever is responsible to put up some type of barricade,” said Battiste.
After Thompson’s death, BR Proud reached out to the city-parish and St. George fire to figure out who was responsible for failing to put barriers in place.
St. George fire said, they responded to the area multiple times, but did not see anyone in a vehicle.
“They called a boat out to the scene and we did our best to investigate and make sure all of those calls were empty,” said St. George Fire spokesman Eldon LeDoux in a May 19, 2021 interview.
We reached out to the city-parish for a comment about the lawsuit, they said “the city-parish attorney handles the suits” and they are still looking to installing safety mechanisms at that location for high water events.
Battiste said, the city-parish should have been had those barriers in place because the area is known to flood and it could have prevented the loss of life.
“It’s always tragic when you lose a loved one unexpected, but it’s worse when they die from something that could have been prevented,” said Battiste.