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Driver who plowed into Mardi Gras crowd to be released early

July 5, 2018

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office shows Neilson Rizzuto, who was sentenced in January 2018, for drunkenly plowing his truck into a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade crowd is to be released later this month, despite a five-year sentence. Rizzuto benefits from a 2017 Louisiana prison reform law that allows release of well-behaved inmates who have served 35 percent of their sentences for nonviolent crimes, authorities said. (Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A man sentenced in January for drunkenly plowing his truck into a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade crowd is to be released later this month, despite a five-year sentence.

Neilson Rizzuto, 26, benefits from a 2017 Louisiana prison reform law that allows release of well-behaved inmates who have served 35 percent of their sentences for nonviolent crimes, authorities said.

Rizzuto was sentenced to five years with one year suspended and given credit for nearly 11 months already served for the crash that injured 32 people last year.

New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, citing information from state corrections officials, said Rizzuto’s expected release date is July 20.

Cannizzaro and some victims of the crash have been critical of what they deemed a lenient sentence.

“Wasn’t he sentenced to five years, and now he’s out?” victim Faye Bertrand said on WDSU-TV when news of Rizzuto’s pending release broke this week. “He hurt 30 people. I’m still suffering.”

Rizzuto pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of negligent vehicular injuring and 14 related misdemeanor counts in October at a hearing marked by emotional testimony from victims injured in the Feb. 25, 2017, crash.

State District Judge Ben Willard also ordered Rizzuto to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving meetings, and write apologies to victims.

Each felony count carried a five-year sentence. Rizzuto, who is from the south Louisiana town of Paradis, also was sentenced to six months for the misdemeanors. Willard ordered that the sentences be served concurrently.

Cannizzaro sympathized with victims unhappy with the sentence.

“But when you combine this judge’s leniency with the accelerated release dates implemented last year in Louisiana’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Initiative, this result becomes possible,” he said in an emailed statement.

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