Original article no longer available
Thursday March 13, 2003
By Stephanie A. Stanley, St. Tammany bureau
A Slidell doctor accused of causing a five-car wreck that killed a Lacombe teenager pleaded innocent Wednesday to negligent homicide, but a ruckus involving relatives and friends of the victim erupted before he could leave the courthouse.
Aydin Onel, 66, faces up to five years in jail and $5,000 in fines if convicted in the death of John Ahrens III, 18, on Dec. 23, 2001.
After Onel entered his plea Wednesday, deputies had to escort him out of the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in Covington, away from angry members of the victim’s family and a large crowd of their supporters, who said Onel should face the more severe crime of vehicular homicide.
At the time of the wreck, police booked Onel with vehicular homicide on suspicion that he was driving while drunk. But a grand jury later indicted him on the lesser charge, apparently based on blood tests taken after the wreck showing he had no alcohol in his system.
After he entered his plea Wednesday morning, members of the Ahrens family and their friends began haranguing Onel as he left the courtroom. Court bailiffs rushed to separate them from the doctor, and the yelling that transpired between the Ahrens group and the bailiffs could be heard throughout the courthouse.
State Police say Onel, who specializes in internal medicine, was driving east on U.S. 190 about 6:25 p.m. when his 1998 Mercedes-Benz crossed the center line and clipped an oncoming 1990 Nissan. The Nissan spun out of control and was hit on the passenger side by another eastbound car, the report says.
The collision killed Ahrens, a passenger in the Nissan who was on his way home from Christmas shopping. Onel’s Mercedes hit a second oncoming vehicle, a Mazda pickup that veered onto the shoulder and was hit by a Buick, the report says. In all, nine people, including Onel, were taken to hospitals.
Hours later at the hospital, Trooper Patrick Dunn detected a “moderate odor” of alcohol on Onel’s breath, and Onel told Dunn that he had a couple of beers that evening, the police report says. A sample of Onel’s blood was drawn by a nurse at about 8:58 p.m., 2 hours after the accident. A month later the results showed he had no alcohol in his system.
Although they would not say why it was done, prosecutors obtained a second blood test from Onel in August, which confirmed blood from the first test was drawn from him.
Despite the blood test, Ahrens’ family thought he should be charged with vehicular homicide because he allegedly combined the use of alcohol with prescription drugs. Onel’s blood was not tested for prescription drugs, so no results are available, but according to court records, Onel said he was taking the antidepressant Celexa at the time of the wreck. The drug carries a warning that it will add to the effects of alcohol.
“I want him to be tried for what he convicted himself of: vehicular homicide,” said Cindy Ahrens, the victim’s mother. “He was taking medications by his own admission, and he was drinking” that night, she said.
Drivers typically face vehicular homicide charges if alcohol contributed to a fatal wreck, but combining alcohol with a prescription drug with a manufacturer’s warning against using it with alcohol can also apply.
Stephanie A. Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (985) 898-4827.