NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new group focused on Mardi Gras-season parade safety will begin work late this week or early next week, New Orleans’ police chief said Monday in discussing the city’s response to the recent deaths of two people in float-related accidents.
Suggestions from family members of the victims and others, such as setting up barricades along the entire length of the parade routes rather than only at major intersections, and mounting accordion barriers between sections of tandem floats, will be discussed, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson told a news conference.
“No doubt there will be changes” next year, Ferguson said. “What those changes will be, I don’t know.”
Ferguson noted that setting up barricades along parade routes that are 5 to 7 miles (8 to 11 kilometers) long would be time-consuming and require many workers. He also said additional workers would be need to be on hand to move such barricades out of the way for any emergency vehicles.
Mardi Gras planning is a year-round affair for parade krewes, police and city officials, all of whom will be represented on the new committee, Ferguson said.
Geraldine Carmouche was killed in a float-related accident on Wednesday. Joseph Sampson was killed on Saturday. Both were 58. After the second accident, Ferguson and Mayor LaToya Cantrell banned tandem floats for the remainder of the season, which ends Tuesday with Mardi Gras.
The nature of the deaths was still being investigated, police spokesman Aaron Looney said later Monday, noting that it wasn’t yet possible to say if they were reaching for beads or other trinkets dropped or tossed by riders.
Sampson’s wife, Vondra Mack, said she had warned her husband to be careful when they decided at the last minute to go to the Endymion parade, one of the biggest and glitziest of the season.
“I told him don’t run behind any floats,” she told WVUE-TV. “He said, ‘No I’m not gonna do that. … I’m gonna stay right here by you.’”
Sampson’s family has heard conflicting accounts of what happened to him, daughter-in-law Latasha Green told WWL-TV and The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate. She said one is that he slipped while reaching for a toy or other “throw”; another is that the jostling crowd inadvertently pushed him over.
“It is something we all know can happen either way (at) Mardi Gras when adults are running up for beads,” Green said. “We don’t feel it was done on purpose. It was just … an unfortunate incident.”
A cousin-in-law, Velma Hill, told WGNO-TV, “It’s just devastating. I wish … people would take more heed not getting close to the float.”
Witnesses told news outlets that Carmouche, who was related to two women riding with the Krewe of Nyx on Wednesday, tried to cross between two parts of a tandem float and tripped over a hitch connecting the sections.
Both parades were stopped after the accidents, and remaining floats were sent on another route to their destinations.
Sampson’s family members said they thought entire parade routes should be barricaded, WWL-TV and The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.
A review of Associated Press archives indicates that at least 25 people have died in float-related accidents since 2000: four in New Orleans, one in Carencro, Louisiana, and 20 in other states. Four were military veterans on a float hit by a train in Midland, Texas, where the crossing gate descended as the float inched over a crossing. It could not speed up because another float was ahead of it. Three of those killed outside Louisiana were 15-year-olds; another 11, including the four most recent, were preteen children.