For two weeks in November, the nation’s eyes were on Marksville. From Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, Americans read, watched or listened to news reports detailing the shooting death of a child who was buckled in the front seat of a car beside his father, who was also seriously wounded.
That is the top story of 2015 for Avoyelles Parish. It was the biggest of many tragic events to befall the parish in the past year.
1. 6-Year-old child killed by marshals
Chris Few and 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis were not the victims of gang violence or of a robbery “gone bad.” The estimated 20 bullets that struck Few’s car were fired by two law enforcement officers who had chased Few to the dead end on Martin Luther King Drive in Marksville at about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr., on duty as deputies for the Ward 2/Marksville City Marshal’s Office, were arrested three days later and charged with 2nd-degree murder of Jeremy and attempted 2nd-degree murder of Few.
The chase ended in front of the Marksville State Historic Site museum and park, at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Taensas.
A body camera video shows Few had his hands raised before the officers began shooting, a State Police investigative report said. State Police Col. Mike Edmonson called the video “the most disturbing thing” he had ever seen.
Greenhouse was released on $1 million bond on Nov. 24 and confined to electronically-monitored “house arrest.” Judge Billy Bennett denied a motion on Dec. 17 to reduce Stafford’s bond to a level he could afford to post.
In what many in the media reported as being linked to the case was the feud between Marksville Mayor John Lemoine and Marksville City Judge Angelo Piazza III over funding the Çity Court. The City Council significantly cut the budget submitted by Piazza and then approved paying only half of the reduced amount, saying the Avoyelles Police Jury is required by law to pay half. Piazza sued the city and parish seeking full funding of the court.
City Hall also ended the practice of allowing off-duty police officers to serve City Court warrants and be paid out of a portion of the court costs to cover the program.
City Marshal Floyd Voinche hired off-duty police officers to serve warrants. In August, those powers were expanded to allow deputy marshals to write citations. It was while Greenhouse was on patrol writing tickets that the chain of events began that led to the fatal shooting on a dead end street in front of the closed state park.
2. School system declared unitary
The public school system was declared “unitary” by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell on May 7. Drell imposed a three-year monitoring period that requires an annual progress report to the court. The term “unitary” means the parish operates a single school system for all students, as compared to a “dual” system in which there were actually two school systems -- one for whites and one for blacks.
The ruling effectively ended a desegregation order first imposed on the district in 1967 and renewed 20 years later with a new plaintiff, Allen Holmes, which resulted in the consolidation of schools. That order caused the closing of some schools and the loss of high school grades in others that remained open.
“This is a humongous weight lifted off this school system,” Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said. “The public doesn’t understand how involved the school system was in this case.”
District Attorney Charles Riddle said it was an historic day for Avoyelles Parish.”
Holmes called the decision “a big day for Avoyelles Parish concerning education.”
In a related topic, in February, LaSAS Principal Blaine Dauzat was selected from a field of six applicants to succeed Dwayne Lemoine as superintendent.
3. Bunkie toddler killed
On Sept. 10, 2-year-old Marcus Beal was killed in an incident that shocked not only the close-knit Bunkie community where the tragedy occurred, but hit the hearts of people across the parish and the state. Marcus was nine days from celebrating his third birthday.
John Drummer, the boyfriend of the child’s mother, was arrested that night and charged with 1st-degree murder for allegedly beating the child to death.
The 911 Center received the initial call at 6:55 p.m., with a report of a child not breathing at 802 Chennault Street in Bunkie. The child was taken by car to Bunkie General Hospital at 6:58 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 9:07 p.m. Coroner Dr. L.J. Mayeux said he found the injuries “inconsistent with the history given for the 2-year-old child.” Drummer was arrested at the hospital. It reportedly took several officers to subdue Drummer at the time of his arrest.
4. Police chief charged with murder
In the early-morning hours of March 21, Shelly St. Romain Mayeux died in a fire at her Evergreen home. Her husband, Evergreen Police Chief Charles Mayeux Jr., escaped from the blaze unharmed. Mayeux was arrested July 8 and charged with 2nd-degree murder and aggravated arson in connection with her death.
Mayeux was also charged with six counts of malfeasance and six counts of theft in unrelated matters involving misappropriating Village of Evergreen funds by falsifying gas purchase records in 2013 and 2014.
Shelly Mayeux was a volunteer firefighter and worked in the Sheriff’s Office booking department.
5. Gulf Coast Spinning stops construction
Gulf Coast Spinning shut down construction in Bunkie. Gulf Coast Spinning CEO Dan Feibus said the first stage of the plant was to be built in Shreveport. However, the project also died in Shreveport.
Feibus said there were snags in the Bunkie project that prevented the plant from being built there.
In December 2013, Gulf Coast’s decision to build its plant in Bunkie was met with great fanfare, including attracting Gov. Bobby Jindal to make the announcement.
Dirt work on the 588,000 sq. ft. textile plant began in July 2014 in the Bunkie Industrial Park on La. Hwy. 115. Building materials were delivered to the site that fall, but work stalled shortly after that.
The plant was expected to employ 307 people.
6. Bullying-related suicide of Terry “Bubba” McCann
The suicide of Terry “Bubba” McCann, a Marksville High School freshman, focused not only Avoyelles’ attention but statewide attention on the important issues of suicide prevention and eradicating bullying in the schools.
If this were the only time Avoyelles had suffered through a young suicide, it would be bad enough. Dr. L.J. Mayeux said the parish’s suicide rate is high enough to merit being called an “epidemic.” As of September, there had been nine suicides in the parish of just over 40,000 residents.
Family members said McCann killed himself after enduring bullying at school. Friends and family have pledged to seek stronger anti-bullying laws -- and to “put teeth” in those laws -- to make people accountable for the results of bullying.
7. Four members of family die in trailer fire
The year began with a mobile home fire that killed four members of a family. The pre-midnight blaze on Jan. 29 claimed the lives of Stanley Charrier, his children Carlin Charrier and Emily Graham, and his mother Catherine Charrier. His wife, Monique Charrier, was at work at the time of the tragedy.
State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning, whose job brings him into close contact with death many times a year, was moved by Mrs. Charrier’s loss.
“Barely into a new year and a mother faces the loss of her husband and her babies,” Browning said. “As a father, I can’t begin to imagine the pain she must be feeling now. Our thoughts and prayers are with her at this very difficult time.”
8. Parishwide tax renewals -- library, drainage
After being beaten like a drum in the fall of 2014, two parishwide taxes came back before the voters for renewal in November. The taxes to support the parish library system and to pay for drainage improvements and maintenance both passed by wide margins in November.
9. 16th Section leases and hunting permits
Another major issue in the school district this year had no direct link to anything happening in the classrooms.
There were two issues dealing with the board’s 16th Section lands -- tracts held in trust by the state for local school districts to raise revenue to support local education.
In one issue, the board accepted and then “unaccepted” a settlement of a lawsuit involving one of its Section 16 tracts. Under the agreement, the board would sell the property to an adjacent landowner and then use the proceeds to purchase property outside of the parish to be used for agricultural purposes to raise revenue.
The agreement was contingent on approval by the Legislature. After the board withdrew its support for the sale, local legislators ensured that it did not come before the Legislature for a vote, thus killing the measure and the sale.
In one of the parish’s biggest controversies of the year, the board raised lease fees on camps on its 16th Section properties and imposed a $200 user permit fee on anyone going on the property.
At one point, a citizens group threatened to mount recall efforts against some of the board members. No such effort has materialized to date.
10. Cutting of trees in Spring Bayou
It is hard to believe now, but at one time the most talked-about crime in Avoyelles Parish was the case of the “Spring Bayou lumberjacks.”
More than 100 trees -- including a few century-old cypress -- were cut down in late 2014, allegedly to block access to favored duck hunting areas in the Spring Bayou Complex.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents arrested Rick “Keith” Savoy of Hessmer on March 6 on charges of criminal damage to state property and several minor regulation violations. He was released on $50,000 bond. Trial is set for Jan. 11, 2016.
On Oct. 16, LDWF agents made a second arrest in the case -- Allen Gaspard Jr. of Marksville. He was also charged with criminal damage to state property and violations of several WMA regulations. He was released on $10,000 bond. An arraignment on those charges is set for Jan. 26.