Police: After deadly crash, grandmother arrested for helping driver flee scene
NEW: Police have now arrested Johnson's mother in the deadly wreck. Investigators believe Pebbles Johnson picked up her son from his grandmother's home and took him to a hotel in Houma.
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LULING - Seven months after a work zone crash killed a contractor from Baton Rouge, State Police arrested a second person tied to the deadly wreck.
Brady Ortego, of Baton Rouge, was hit and killed while working on the bridge over the Mississippi River in Luling when a driver crashed through the work site on January 14. The driver walked away from the crash scene, leaving behind the heavily damaged vehicle.
In March, State Police arrested the driver, identified as Hunter Mason Johnson. Johnson was charged with vehicular homicide/driving under the influence, hit and run involving a fatality, reckless operation and obstruction of justice.
On July 5, State Police announced troopers also arrested Johnson's grandmother, 73-year-old Marie Sally Dufrene. Investigators said she helped her grandson, the driver responsible for the crash, leave the scene. Dufrene is charged with obstruction of justice. Investigators said she picked Johnson up from the crash scene after the wreck in January.
The arrests come as Ortego's family has spent all of 2021 dealing with his death and lengthy investigation.
The crash happened in January. The first arrest wasn't made until March, a frustratingly long time for Ortego's wife, Adele Domingue Ortego.
"This man was an amazing man who didn't deserve this," Domingue Ortego said. "He has an army of people who love him, and we can't say goodbye because we are so caught up in this, and the lack of justice, that we have not been able to do him the service he deserves."
Ortego was installing cameras on the Luling Bridge when Johnson, State Police said, crashed into the worksite. Ortego was thrown over the bridge and into the Mississippi River. His body has not been found. Johnson's vehicle was heavily damaged and left behind at the scene of the crash. Johnson walked away and phoned his grandmother for a ride home, State Police said.
Troopers said in March, when they arrested Johnson, that agents spent "countless hours collecting, analyzing and reviewing" evidence, including video footage, and it took time to confirm Johnson was driving his vehicle found at the crash scene.
In February, before arrests were announced, State Police said the investigation was lengthy: "LSP is continuing to investigate the hit and run crash that occurred on the Interstate 310 Hale Boggs Bridge on January 14th, 2021. At the conclusion of the investigation, Troopers will present physical evidence as well as findings from the scene to the St. Charles Parish District Attorney for consultation of criminal charges. The investigation is ongoing and there is no additional information available at this time."
The WBRZ Investigative Unit, following leads from sources, found the vehicle involved in the deadly crash was recently released to the owner. WBRZ recorded video of the truck parked at a home, covered with a tarp in Reserve. WBRZ sources said the vehicle was released back to the owner after it was processed for evidence. DNA was taken from a blood-stained airbag and proved to be a match to the person presumed to be driving the vehicle at the time of the deadly crash.
"We have to go to bed every night and wake up every morning and there's no justice," Domingue Ortego said. "The person responsible is out there living his life and has not even had a slap on the wrist."
Domingue Ortego said she is speaking up on her husband's behalf and her faith in the justice system is fading with each passing day.
"Brady is probably the most loving individual that anyone could ever meet," Domingue Ortego said. "He would give anyone the last shirt off his back and the last dollar in his pocket even if he needed it. He's never met a human that he didn't love."