Wayne Stewart was a lifetime resident of The Greater New Orleans area, born and raised in the 9th Ward. Like many others, he attended and graduated from Holy Cross High School thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of his parents. And also like many others, Stewart indulged in many excesses, including drugs.
After hearing the news of Stewart’s arrest for arson and the attempted murders of the four people in his life whom he expressly loved more than life itself, something seemed off. Stewart was a close personal friend, but I hadn’t known him to be violent. I was enrolled in a first-section journalism class at UNO when I received the news, and I immediately jumped on the story for my final paper. Having known Wayne, I was sure there was much more to the story. My professor quickly approved the article, so I met with my ex-boyfriend, Matt Fraser, who had been with Wayne the night of the incident.
Fraser felt an obvious series of events led to this incident, which, in many ways, could have easily been prevented. Several weeks before the night of the fire, a friend of Wane’s had visited from up North where Stewart had moved several years ago. This friend and Stewart would frequently take Ecstasy tablets they had acquired through a coworker. Although Fraser was uncertain the exact number of tabs Stewart had taken on the day he described, he was sure it was at least 10 in six hours. Fraser said that Stewart began to hallucinate, insisting that their recent houseguest was still hiding in the house.
Eventually, Fraser had to take a brief bathroom break from minding Stewart in this erratic state. Upon his return to the living room, the rarely used front door and gate were wide open, and Stewart was nowhere in sight.
A Destrehan policeman later found Stewart hiding behind a parked cruiser outside the station. When questioned, Stewart replied that a female cop had told him he could borrow the vehicle. He was immediately taken into custody and subsequently committed to a state mental health facility on an involuntary hold (that arrest record has since disappeared). However, Stewart lacked insurance, and the state could not keep him hospitalized beyond the statutory holding period. Despite the insistence of his attending doctors that he was in no way ready to leave, the State of Louisiana was forced to release Stewart.
One night not long after that, Stewart expressed frustration about his living situation to Fraser. He lived with his childhood friend, the friend’s girlfriend, their daughter, and the girlfriend’s younger child (who was later proven to be Stewart’s daughter). At this time Fraser reported that Stewart had consumed an excess of two milligram Xanax pills. The men sat at The Moonwalk along the river in the French Quarter after a particularly rough workday as Fraser feebly tried to calm Stewart down from his agitated state.
Nonetheless, Stewart returned home to find four people in his house, fighting over whether or not they would continue staying there. This altercation sent Stewart over the edge. He then made no secret of fetching a gas can and pouring its contents throughout the townhouse from the upstairs bedrooms down to the back door and most commonly used entrance and exit. All were safely out of the structure when the fire started.
When the police arrived, the male alleged intended victim, to avoid his own arrest due to outstanding warrants of his own, gave the false name Dave Davis to police and reporters. Davis was the last name of another family with whom those involved grew up in the 9th ward. Stewart was arrested and charged with not only arson but attempted murder. Knowing these alleged intended victims, it wouldn’t be hard to speculate that perhaps “Dave Davis” saw to it that the one unfortunately damning drop of gasoline splashed on a child’s leg in hopes of a future lawsuit.
Stewart’s arrest and the trumped-up charges against him enraged all those who knew and loved him. Most felt it was overwhelmingly apparent that the incident was a psychotic episode, not a malicious act of violence and attempted murder. Finally, Robert Buras, the owner of The Royal Street Grocery and a known defense attorney, took Stewart’s case and was able to get the attempted murder charges dropped. Stewart served his time for the arson and was released to his family. Unfortunately, Stewart’s tragedy, sadly unfitting for a man so kind and generous, was not yet over.
All of Stewart’s former friends and roommates had betrayed him and left him with excessive back rent. He spent the next few years of his life living alone and battling a severe heroin addiction, which eventually led to his demise. Stewart passed away at the age of 40 on Saturday, January 31st, 2016.
To those who loved and still miss him, it is a small mercy that Stewart, with his constant words of kindness and encouragement combined with his on-the-nose quotes, spent his final days knowing his character and compassion would live on through his daughter. She is now happily residing with more stable relatives, no longer in the clutches of the vicious cycle that plagued him and so many others who never got a real second chance.
In Loving Memory Of Wayne Louis Stewart