Biloxi college student receives house arrest for DUI deaths of six friends

Published 7:16 pm Friday, July 14, 2006

A college student whose alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he was in a crash that killed six friends has been sentenced to a year of house arrest.

Chris Rutland, 21, waived his right to indictment and pleaded guilty Thursday before a Harrison County circuit courtroom of friends and relatives of the victims, who were graduates of Mercy Cross High School in Biloxi.

Allen Martel, the only surviving passenger, was among those who begged the judge for mercy.

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Investigators have said that Rutland, a University of Mississippi student, was the driver of a pickup truck that was parked in the middle of a foggy state highway near Wiggins about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 12. The pickup was struck by a tractor-trailer on Mississippi 26. Six students were killed, and Rutland and Martel were injured.

Rutland’s blood-alcohol concentration level was 0.19 percent, according to Assistant District Attorney John Garguilo. Under state law, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated for drivers 21 and older.

Rutland, a University of Mississippi student, faced five to 25 years for each of the deaths. Garguilo said prosecutors agreed to consider one count only for the six deaths.

Circuit Judge Steve Simpson accepted the recommendation of prosecutors and the wishes of the victims’ families, who said Rutland will have to live with his “bad decision.” Rutland admitted he drank beer several hours earlier at a nightclub in Bogalusa, La.

The families were adamant in not wanting Rutland to go to prison.

Simpson imposed a five-year sentence but suspended four, ordering Rutland under house arrest for one year followed by five years of probation.

The sentence allows Rutland to continue studies at Ole Miss, where he is a junior.