Survivor reacts to pending release of Endymion drunk driver

Neilson Rizzuto

NEW ORLEANS – The drunk driver who plowed into a crowd gathered for the Endymion parade last year will soon walk the streets as a free man, leaving one survivor disappointed in the criminal justice system but hopeful for the future.

Twenty-five-year-old Neilson Rizzuto had a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit when he steered his truck into a crowd of people on February 25, 2017, injuring more than 30 people.

Rizzuto was sentenced to five years behind bars in January of 2018, with one year suspended and credit for time served.

Under Act 280 of 2017, a first-time non-violent offender is only required to serve 35 percent of their sentence, according to Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

In Rizzuto’s case, when combined with the suspended sentence and credit for time served, that means he will only serve 191 days behind bars, making his release date July 20, 2018.

“I certainly understand and share the frustration of the dozens of victims injured by this defendant,” Cannizzaro said. “As I said in January, Judge Willard certainly could have imposed a more stringent sentence than he did. I believe that would have been appropriate, given the number of victims and the life-changing severity of some of their injuries. 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. I would rather see more consideration given to crime victims than to those who harmed them through criminal acts.”

Roots of Music co-founder Allison Reinhardt, who was seriously wounded when Rizzuto plowed into her, thinks he should spend much longer behind bars.

“It’s just shocking to me,” she said. “I want to say there’s a good number of us that are still trying to get to pre-Endymion standards physically.”

On the other hand, Reinhardt said she doesn’t believe prison makes anyone better, so a longer sentence may not have helped anyone.

Above all, she said she keeps thinking of her own son, how much it would hurt her to lose him to jail, and what, if anything, Rizzuto has learned from this experience.

“I think it’s an opportunity for him to try to make right,” she said. “There are a lot of ways that he can do that, so hopefully this won’t be an utter disaster by letting him out.”