Report from Louisiana: Tragedy at Mardi Gras

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Mardi Gras season this year has brought both raucous, bacchanalian festivities true to our “laissez les bon temps rouler” mantra, as well as terrible tragedy.

In New Orleans another terrible accident claimed the life of a man attending the Endymion parade Saturday night. As with the accident the previous week in which a woman was killed during the Nyx parade, this accident also involved a tandem float. For the unfamiliar, tandem floats usually belong to large super krewes and are multiple floats joined together by some kind of hitch. Some can be several sections and be as long as 300 feet.

In the accident Saturday night, Joseph Sampson, 58, jumped up to catch a throw, landed on some beads, slipped and fell, and somehow ended up under a float. His friends tried to grab him and pull him out while another tried to alert the driver to stop, an impossible task over the noise. As with the accident the previous week, the parade was terminated.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has now issued a directive that no more tandem floats will be allowed, thus causing krewes with tandem floats to scramble and make adjustments so they can roll in these last few days of Mardi Gras season.

Of course, some people agree and others disagree with the order. Everyone recognizes the tragedy of the deaths but contend that accidents are bound to happen and perhaps error in judgement should be considered. The woman the previous week was supposedly attempting to cross over between the two floats, got tangled and tripped over the hitch, and went under the float. No safety studies have been done or formal reports on either accident and tandem floats have been in use for many years. The disgruntled are calling Cantrell’s order a “knee jerk” reaction in an attempt to bolster her low popularity rate.

Here in Shreveport, in northwest Louisiana, we have three large parades over two weeks. Some portions of the parades have barricades but it would be almost impossible to place barricades along an entire parade route and it is unclear whether that would have averted the situation in NOLA. Many of these parades wind through neighborhoods. At some point you can’t legislate complete and total safety.

Mardi Gras is a major money maker for NOLA and Louisiana tourism. It is unlikely, as tragic as these events are, that any significant changes will take place; tandem floats may be back next year after safety studies, or whenever there is a new mayor.

In the meantime, roll on.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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