Two high school cheerleaders were brutally killed in Louisiana on New Year’s Eve after a Baton Rouge area police officer allegedly crashed his squad car into their vehicle during a high-speed chase.
David Cauthron, 42, stands accused of two counts of negligent homicide and one count of negligent injuring over the highway deaths of 17-year-old Maggie Dunn and 16-year-old Caroline Gill.
The girls attended Brusly High School, where they cheered for the Panthers. Dunn was a junior; Gill was a sophomore.
“As we mourn the tragic deaths of Maggie Dunn and Caroline Gill please keep their families, friends, and the BHS community in your thoughts and prayers,” a statement posted on the cheerleading team’s Facebook page says. “Their enthusiasm and bright smiles will be missed more than can be imagined.”
Cauthron previously worked for the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office. He joined the Addis Police Department in February 2022.
“That cop has a lot of questions to answer pertaining to his speed and sheer negligence,” 18th Judicial District District Attorney Tony Clayton said in comments reported by Baton Rouge-based ABC affiliate WBRZ. “The public can rest assured, we will follow the facts.”
“I want the public to have confidence in its DA’s office that we will follow the facts, and we should let the facts lead us to whatever the outcome should be,” the DA added.
Citing anonymous sources, the TV station reports the defendant’s GPS inside his police unit showed that he was traveling at roughly 86 miles per hour and that he failed to hit the brakes before striking the vehicle carrying the two girls. Witnesses cited by WBRZ said that Cauthron ran a red light just before impact – a light that had been red for some 20 seconds prior to the incident.
“Sirens and police vehicles only give an officer permission to request to cut through a red light,” Clayton said in comments reported by The Advocate. “You must slow down or come to a complete stop when human life is in danger. Radio travels faster than the car; the officer could have just radioed ahead that the suspect’s car was coming.”
The fatal crash occurred just before 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in the tiny town of Brusly, due north and just minutes across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, where the chase began.
“The Addis PD is deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred,” police said in a New Year’s Day Facebook post. “We wish to offer our sincere condolences to the Dunn and Gill families.”
According to Baton Rouge-based NBC affiliate WVLA, the APD unit “T-boned” the teenagers’ vehicle as they were turning onto Louisiana State Highway 1. During the crash, the police vehicle slammed into the victims’ vehicle so hard that the second automobile was pushed into the median of the highway, WBRZ reported.
Maggie Dunn’s brother, University of Louisiana at Lafayette student Liam Dunn, was also in the girls’ vehicle. He was severely injured in the crash and is reportedly in critical condition.
The pursuit began when officers in Baton Rouge attempted to effectuate a traffic stop on Tyquel Zanders, 24, who is accused of stealing his father’s vehicle. Police allege the suspect ran multiple red lights and accelerated to upwards of 80 mph on Government Street before reaching speeds of 110 mph on Interstate 10.
“He put the chain of events into play,” Clayton told the Advocate, referring to Zanders. “He’s responsible for all the reactions to his actions. He’s facing two counts, and if that poor kid doesn’t survive, he’ll face another.”
According to the Advocate, East Baton Rouge Parish officers were called off the chase after the wanted car traveled across the Mississippi River Bridge into West Baton Rouge Parish.
As Cauthron’s unit careened into the teenagers’ car in front of the JW Food Mart on Vaughn Drive, the suspect continued driving. He was eventually apprehended as he crossed the Mississippi River Bridge back into Baton Rouge when his car stalled. Zanders is now facing charges of manslaughter, theft of a motor vehicle, home invasion, and aggravated flight from a police officer.
Before Cauthron was charged, investigators reviewed dash camera video “and other footage” from the incident, WBRZ reported.
“For these kids to not to have been able to start the New Year is inexcusable, but we’ll follow the facts first,” Clayton told the TV station. “I just can’t put my arms around why (the officer) was driving at that rate of speed in pursuit of this vehicle. This officer is facing some serious issues.”
“If it involves putting human life in danger, stop the damn pursuit,” Clayton added in comments reported by the Times-Picayune. “It’s just not worth the risk.”
Cauthron is currently being detained in the West Baton Rouge Parish Detention Center on $100,000 bond.
[images: Gill and Dunn via Brusly High School Cheerleading; Cauthron via screengrab/WBRZ; Zanders via East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]