‘It was like an explosion’: Witnesses recall panic, terror after suspected drunk driver crashes into Endymion crowd

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - "First I heard a car ... then ... it was almost like an explosion."

Thousands of revelers and families were at or near the intersection of North Carrollton and Orleans avenues Saturday night when a suspected drunk driver, 25-year-old Neilson Rizzuto, crashed his pickup truck into the crowd, injuring 28 people and leaving 12 in critical condition. Rizzuto was immediately taken into custody. He was arrested Sunday on two counts of first-degree negligent vehicular injuring, hit-and-run driving causing serious injury and reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

Neilson Rizzuto

Neilson Rizzuto

Witness Juwanda Williams, who was just feet away from the accident, said she heard more than she saw.

"First I heard a car, hit into … almost like an explosion," she recalls. "It came very quickly, then it hit into another car, and to the truck I was standing next to, I was about three feet from it."

Williams' daugther saw the crash and watched a female NOPD officer get struck by a vehicle and hit the ground.

"At that point, someone thought the driver was backing up and trying to hit more people, so everyone just started panicking and running," Williams says. "I grabbed my son and daughter and I fell off the curb. I hurt my knee trying to get them to safety. We’re all OK.

"It was terrifying, because we didn’t know if it was on purpose or not," she continues. "And no one knew what was going on. Most of the people that weren’t in the immediate area … they didn’t know … the parade was continuing. It was surreal. Really surreal."

WGNO General Manager John Cruse was also at the intersection when the crash happened.

"It was total chaos, because, on a parade scene like this, you have people all over the place, so no one knew who was hurt," Cruse says. "People didn’t know whether or not their family members were hurt, and then you had people who knew their family members were hurt … No one knew the extent of what this was."

Although chaotic, Cruse says everyone around him rushed to help the victims as quickly as they could.

"As close as I was ... by the time I got (to the victims) … people were on every victim out there," he says. "I wish I was still looking at the parade and hadn’t turned my back, because it’s not a sight that I care to ever see again."