Thibodaux man convicted of 2021 crash that claimed lives of HHS grads

A Thibodaux man was convicted on Thursday of last week on three homicide charges stemming from a vehicular crash in 2021 that killed three Nicholls State University students from Luling, according to the Lafourche Parish District Attorney’s office.

The three women who died in the accident – Lily Dufrene, 19, Hali Coss, 18 and Michaila Bowling, 18 – were killed in November 2021 while traveling back to their college apartment in Thibodaux, after having had dinner together at an Elmwood area restaurant in Metairie.

Joey Clement, 39, was found guilty by a six-person jury of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of negligent homicide. The jury deliberated for around six hours before delivering a unanimous guilty verdict. Clement was reported to have had three previous Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenses, including a 2017 offense in Lafourche Parish he had been sentenced to two years for.

Rickey Dufrene, father of Lily Dufrene, said the last two years leading up to the trial have been emotionally difficult for he and his family. His wife, who remained grief-stricken following their daughter’s death, did not return to work for at least nine months following the accident, while his remaining daughter opted for a fresh start and moved to the West Coast after graduating college recently.

“We’re happy that there’s some justice, and at the same time scared that we have a system that doesn’t punish the worst offenders,” Dufrene said following the guilty verdict. “This was [the defendant Clement’s] fourth DUI…the state had plenty of chances to get this guy off the road, but they just kept printing him a new license.”

Expert testimony presented during the trial revealed Clement was traveling between 88 and 93 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone, leading up to the fatal crash. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was measured as being more than double the legal limit. The other driver, Lily Dufrene of Luling, was found to have no alcohol or drugs in her system and was traveling under the speed limit.

Clement’s sentencing has been scheduled for October 11, a court date Norah Bowling, mother of Michaila Bowling, said she and their family will be sure to attend. Bowling said she and her family would like to see driving impairment related laws changed to help prevent repeat offenders like Clement from devastating other families.

“If somebody who does this two or three times can be out of jail in less than two years, then they’re going to keep doing it,” Bowling said, pointing to the need for a change in the law.

The young women were three of almost 300 Louisiana residents killed in 2021 where a driver was suspected of being impaired, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Louisiana.

“When we say that number, we think ‘wow, that’s a statistic,’ but behind each one of those numbers is someone who’s so loved and so missed, and whose families’ lives were turned upside down by their unexpected and 100 percent preventable death,” Kelly Dair, Victim Services Specialist with MADD Louisiana, said in a recent social media post as the trial was underway.

The parents of the three victims have bonded the last two years as they have navigated the case’s legal motions and now the recent trial together. The parents said they plan to remember the lives of their lost children by having a meal together every year on the anniversary of their children’s deaths at the same restaurant the trio last ate at that November evening.

Community support for the three families has been tremendous as the three families have attempted to make sense of their loss, both Bowling and Dufrene said. Shortly after the accident, Nicholls State University added three inscribed bricks in its main “quad” courtyard, one for each of the women, Bowling mentioned. Dufrene said there have been golf tournaments and various fundraisers, with tens of thousands of dollars raised from the community to help start a new scholarship in the three victims’ names.

“They were good girls; they didn’t drink and drive…I have not heard one story where any of them did anything improper,” Dufrene said of his daughter Lily and her two college mates from Luling, on how they conducted themselves before the accident. “They were living their lives.”


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