Top stories of Avoyelles Parish

2015 in review

 

Following are the top stories of 2015, separated into 10 categories. The top story of 2015 was the Nov. 3 shooting by deputy city marshals that left one child dead and his father seriously wounded.
 
   For two weeks in November, the nation’s eyes were on Marksville. From Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.,  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 in the attack.
   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 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. Stafford was also a full-time shift lieutenant for the Marksville Police Department. He was also a part-time deputy with Alexandria City Marshal’s Office. Greenhouse was a full-time officer with the Alexandria City Marshal’s Office and a reserve officer with MPD. Both men were moonlighting with the Ward 2 Marshal’s Office, reportedly to help the City Court collect unpaid fines on bench warrants. In August, city marshal duties were expanded to include making traffic stops and writing tickets.
    The night of Nov. 3, Greenhouse and Stafford were in separate vehicles. Greenhouse, for still unexplained reasons, pursued Few after he was spotted at a traffic light trying to convince his girlfriend to come home.  Greenhouse called for assistance. Stafford, in a car with deputy marshal Jason Brouillette, responded. So did MPD Sgt. Kenneth Parnell.
    The chase ended in front of the Marksville State Historic Site museum and park, at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Taensas. 
Minor damage to the front of the marshal vehicle indicates some contact with another vehicle. There were initial reports that the officers claimed they were attempting to serve a warrant on Few and that when he was cornered, Few attempted to back his vehicle into the patrol car.
    Comments from State Police and from others with information about the case over the following weeks cast doubt on the reason for the chase and that the officers had any reasonable cause to fear for their lives at the scene.
    In fact, the body camera video of Parnell, who came to the scene as backup, 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.” An Avoyelles Grand Jury considered evidence in the case on Dec. 10, indicting both men on 2nd-degree murder and attempted 2nd-degree murder.
    The Attorney General’s Office released the initial investigative report that described the body camera video of the shooting. The report said the video was 13 minutes and 47 seconds  long. About 26 seconds into the video, Few’s “empty hands are raised and visible when gunfire becomes audible.”
    Stafford went to court on Dec. 17 to request his $1 million bond be reduced. Judge Billy Bennett rejected the request. 
    Arraignment was set for Jan. 5 for Stafford and Greenhouse on the charges against them.
 
2. A string of tragic deaths
    There were several other deaths during the year that seemed to unite the parish in a sense of shared grief. It seemed we were unable to fully recover from one before being hit with another.
A. 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 those 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.
B. 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 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.
    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.
C. 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.”
D. 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.
   Charles 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.
 
3. Avoyelles Parish School District: 
    For the local public school district, 2015 could be seen as a year of endings or of new beginnings. There were several major news events coming out of the School Board this year.
A. 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. 
    This 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 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.”
B. In February, LaSAS Principal Blaine Dauzat was selected from a field of six applicants to succeed Dwayne Lemoine as superintendent.
C. Red River Charter Academy received a recommendation from the School Board’s independent evaluator but was rejected by the board on June 1. RRCA then applied to the state Board of Elementary & Secondary Education to become a state-sanctioned charter school for grades 6-8. BESE’s evaluator also recommended the charter be granted. 
    At its Dec. 1 meeting, BESE deferred action on the matter until its January meeting.
    Avoyelles Children’s Charter School was also rejected by the School Board and was not recommended by the BESE evaluator. Officials with that proposed elementary charter school said they will try again in 2016. 
D. 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.
D-1. 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.
D-2. 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.
     A group of leaseholders filed suit, alleging the lease amounts were not set in a legal manner.
E. The district ended the year with bad news -- dropping from a “C” to a “D” in the state school performance scores.
    Two schools, Marksville Elementary and Riverside Elementary, fell from being rated “D” to becoming an “F” school. 
    LaSAS, a 7-12 grade charter school, improved from being a “C” to becoming a “B” school. Avoyelles High, also grades 7-12, improved from “D” to “C.”
    Lafargue Elementary remained a “B” and Plaucheville Elementary held steady with a “C” grade.
    The other four schools kept a “D” rating.
 
4. Economic ups, downs and maybes:
    Just when it looked like fortune could be smiling on the parish, up jumped Old Trouble to bring the parish crashing down again. The good news is that there are those trying to make an economic difference. Perhaps those efforts will pay off in 2016.
A. Gulf Coast Spinning shut down construction in Bunkie and confirmed its plans to open the plant in Shreveport.
B. On a positive note, the state Juvenile Detention Center held a job fair and  announced that the center will open on schedule in 2016.
C. The Marksville State Historic Site -- commonly called the prehistoric Indian park and museum -- fell to the state’s budget axe.
    The Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe expressed an interest in taking over operation and maintenance of the archaeologically-significant site.
The park remained open through the summer, but an agreement with the tribe has not yet been finalized. Tribal officials have said they still hope the tribe can reopen the site in 2016.
D. Del Monte bought the Belledeau canning plant property from Sager Creek -- who had just bought the property from Allen’s the year before. The sale documents were filed in the parish assessor’s office on March 20. Del Monte has not revealed any plans for the idle plant property, which includes four buildings on  32 acres. 
    Parish officials have approached the giant vegetable processing company with a request that it consider donating the property for use as an industrial park to entice potential businesses -- such as transportation, warehousing or fabrication manufacturing -- to the site. There has been no response from Del Monte.
E. Most of the La. Hwy 1 five-lane project was completed during the year. In fact, the project was expected to be completed before or shortly after Jan. 1.
    The project caused some traffic headaches, but the state has consistently promised economic rewards and smoother traveling for those living along the Mansura-Marksville stretch of the road and for visitors traveling on it through the parish.
 
5. Municipal  in-fighting
     Political spats are almost so common that they should not be considered news. But they are -- especially when those spats reach the level of the two events in this section.
A. The Marksville City Council unilaterally cancelled a long-standing agreement with the Police Jury in which the city agreed to pay the bulk of the Ward 2/Marksville City Court operating costs in exchange for all fines and fees.  The council  then cut City Judge Angelo Piazza III’s submitted budget in half and then approved paying only half of the reduced amount. Piazza sued the city and parish seeking full funding of the court. 
    The Police Jury immediately agreed to pay half of City Court’s original budget, but instructed District Attorney Charles Riddle to prosecute cases as violations of state law, not city ordinances, so that almost all fines will be sent to the Police Jury.
    Both district judges recused themselves from the case. Judge Harry Randow was appointed to oversee the case and ordered both governing boards to pay equal shares of the court’s operating costs until the matter can be resolved by trial. 
   The year ended with Randow instructing all parties to try to resolve their differences to avoid going to court.
    At its Dec. 9 meeting, the Marksville City Council authorized City Attorney Derrick Whittington to negotiate with attorneys for City Court and City Judge Angelo Piazza in an effort to amicably resolve the dispute out of court.
    A review of City Court records found that there are about 1,337 outstanding warrants, valued at more than $300,000.
B. In the parish’s other ward/city court jurisdiction, Ward 10/Bunkie City Judge Derrick “Digger” Earles squared off with Bunkie Police Chief Bobby Corner over the issue of whether city police have to serve City Court warrants.
   Corner said his officers have police duties to attend to and that serving warrants is the job of Ward 10/City Constable Charles Candella. Earles disagreed, threatening to charge Corner with contempt of court if he did not instruct his officers to serve the warrants as ordered.
The judge and police chief reached an accord, but still disagree as to whether Corner’s agreement to serve warrants is only until the constable’s backlog is cleared up or if it is to become a permanent duty of the BPD.
C. In another squabble between officials, the Bunkie City Council filed a motion to force Corner to provide documents concerning whether recently hired police officers or applicants for police officer positions have the necessary certification to be a police officer. That motion is set to be heard in the 12th Judicial District Court on Jan. 6.
 
6. Elections/Politics: 
    All politics is local, and perhaps no single event in a community has more long-range effect than the voters’ choice of their leaders. For that reason, we present the following election-related stories in our Top 10 list.
A. Six police jurors qualified for re-election unopposed. Three chose not to seek re-election. The parish’s two state senators and coroner were also  re-elected without opposition. The state representative, sheriff and  clerk of court won their re-election contests. Assessor Emeric Dupuy retired and his chief deputy, Heath Pastor, won the “promotion” in an election battle with popular Cottonport mayor and businessman Scotty Scott. Three new police jurors will take office in January. 
    Two special elections for aldermen in Evergreen and Simmesport were called due to resignations. The Evergreen seat was filled early when only the interim alderwoman qualified to seek the office. The Simmesport seat went to ballot box with three candidates in October and a runoff in November, in which the appointed interim alderman was defeated.
B. Four new Marksville City Councilmen took office in what could only be called a “house cleaning” election in the previous fall. Mike Gremillion was the only councilman re-elected. The election put three black aldermen on the council for the first time ever, with Clyde “Danny” Benson defeating Richard Tassin in District 5. The redistricting of the five council districts last year made District 5 almost 50-50 in population, with a slight white majority. The district has a clear white majority in registered voters. The parish’s district court judges, district attorney, justices of the peace, ward constables, two ward/city judges and municipal officials in Bunkie, Mansura, Evergreen and Moreauville were also sworn in.
C. Allison Lemoine Ferguson was appointed interim alderwoman for Mansura on Dec. 7, filling the seat vacated by the death of De’Las Huddleston.
    Huddleston defeated Ferguson by four votes to win the fifth at-large council position in the November 2014 election. Other council members noted at that meeting that Huddleston had indicated he would be stepping down from the council in March and had asked that Ferguson be appointed, primarily due to the number of votes she received in the council election.
    The council unanimously approved Ferguson’s appointment to serve until a special election can be held Nov. 8, 2016.
 
7. Taxes:
    Nobody likes taxes. This nation was created in large part because we opposed taxes. Yet, every year or so local governments see the need to pass the collection plate one more time in hopes of getting enough money to provide the services those who elected them demand and deserve. Here is a look at a few of this year’s tax issues.
A. After being beaten like a drum last fall, 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.
B. The City of Marksville was holding its breath when its 1/2-cent “public safety” sales tax to support police and fire services was up for renewal in October. The city decided to put it on the crowded October ballot because it did not want the tax renewal to be on the same ballot with the Police Jury taxes. The public safety tax also passed handily.
C. The year ended with the Police Jury beginning the process of creating four Road Districts which would be able to call a property tax for road improvements within the individual district. 
    If the proposal is adopted, any tax approved in a road district will only be able to be used on roads within that district. All areas of the parish will continue to share in the parishwide road funds currently received. No district will be “penalized” for adopting a district tax by receiving less parishwide funds.
    Jurors said it would be  almost impossible to pass a new parishwide tax for road improvements and maintenance. There have already been comments from voters in the municipalities that the jury may find it impossible to pass any tax for parish road improvements and maintenance.
D. Bunkie voters also dug into their wallets this past year, approved a 25-mill, $6 million bond proposal to repair and renovate the Bunkie sewage plant. The proposition passed with 86 percent in favor, 347 to 58. 
 
8. Notable deaths:
    There were several deaths of note this past year.
    As mentioned previously, Mansura Councilman De’Las Huddleston died unexpectedly at his home on Nov. 18. He was serving in his first term as councilman. Huddleston was the only elected official to died in office this year.
    The parish lost three former Avoyelleans of the Year. 
    Former School Board member Eddie Rabalais, Avoyellean of the Year for 1988, died Nov. 26. He was board president when a federal court handed down a desegregation order that forced the consolidation of parish schools, which resulted in closing some schools and removing the high school grades in others.
    Jo Saucier Hamilton, founder of Hope Center substance addiction center in Marksville and the 1990 Avoyellean of the Year, died on Aug. 5.
    Lucien Laborde, a major force in local agriculture and a World War II veteran of the D-Day Invasion, died on Aug. 28. Laborde was honored in March with induction into the Louisiana Agriculture Hall of Distinction in Baton Rouge. The Hall of Distinction honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to the state’s agriculture community in farming, ranching, forestry, aquaculture, education and/or agri-business. 
    Retired Bunkie Police Chief Mary Fanara died after a lengthy illness on June 2 -- less than a year after retiring with over 37 years in law enforcement. She spent 33 of those in Bunkie, where she began her career as a dispatcher.
 
9. Other Crimes, Trials:
    Not every crime in Avoyelles attracted the interest of CNN, the Washington Post and Reuter’s News Service. However, to those in this community, they were still important.
A. 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 was set for Jan. 26.
B. The final defendants in the Jessica Guillot kidnapping case were convicted and sentenced during the year, but a defendant convicted in July  2014 won an appeal to set his conviction aside.
   Guillot was last seen in September 2013. She is presumed to be dead, but no body has been found.
   Asa Bentley was convicted of 2nd-degree kidnapping in January and sentenced to 70 years in prison. Willie Lee Price Jr. was convicted of 2nd-degree kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison in March.
   Donnie Edwards pleaded guilty to simple kidnapping in May and was sentenced to five years in prison.
   In November, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the simple kidnapping conviction of Chadwick McGhee, agreeing with McGhee’s assertion that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.
   The Avoyelles District Attorney’s Office has appealed the 3rd Circuit decision to the state Supreme Court. DA Charles Riddles said he will re-try McGhee if the Supreme Court does not overrule the appeals court decision. 
C. The 3rd Circuit also overturned the conviction of Latracus Henry on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Riddle also appealed that decision and promised to try Henry again if the Supreme Court does not reverse the 3rd Circuit.
Henry was charged with the offense after his girlfriend was fatally wounded. Before dying, she told authorities the gun accidentally discharged. 
D. The day after the fatal shooting of Jeremy Mardis, dozens of law enforcement officers from state, parish, municipal and tribal police agencies converged on Addison Street, just a few blocks from the dead end where the Nov. 3 tragedy occurred.
    Will Ray Lachney, of Marksville, had barricaded himself in a house on Addison Street at approximately 9:30 a.m., armed with a shotgun he had taken from a hunter in some nearby woods. 
    After nine hours, Lachney surrendered to police and was charged with several crimes, including attempted 1st-degree murder for allegedly firing the shotgun toward police officers.
   At some point during the standoff, Lachney’s mother, Sharon Lachney, was shot in the arm by a police officer and flown by helicopter to an Alexandria hospital, where she underwent surgery.
   Marksville Assistant Police Chief Bryan Bernard was placed on administrative leave, with pay, while the Avoyelles Sheriff’s Office investigated the circumstances surrounding the shooting. 
 
10.   Nature
   In the age-old contest of man against nature, “us against them,” human vs. beast, it looked like Mother Nature was ahead on points this year.
A. There were several bear sightings around the state in May, including two in Avoyelles Parish.
    The increased presence of the Louisiana black bears came at the same time as a U.S.  Fish & Wildlife Service recommendation that the bear be removed from the protected species list.
    There were no injuries to the bears, pets or people during the encounters. However, the events did highlight the need for caution as bear-human contact could become more common as the population of the once almost-extinct animal grows.
    It was noted that Avoyelles is not only the “Cajun Crossroads” connecting the French South with the Anglo North of the state, it is also an important crossroads connecting the bear communities in the Atchafalaya Basin with their redneck cousins in the Tensas Basin.
B. A survey from the LSU AgCenter confirmed what many Avoyelles farmers already knew -- wild hogs were going hog wild in the parish.
The survey found that feral hogs caused at least $30 million of damage in Louisiana in 2013, and it is believed that the amount of damage increased each year as the hogs’ population continued to balloon.
    While Avoyelles has about 1 percent of the state’s population, it accounted for about 10 percent of the hog-related damage, with an estimated $3 million of damage to crops in Avoyelles.
    Unfortunately, there is no “good news” to balance the bad in this case. It is estimated that Louisianians would have to kill 75 percent of the wild hogs in the state each year just to keep the porkers’ population at its already high level. 
    The hogs have a high rate of reproduction and no natural predators -- except very angry farmers.
C. Mosquitoes reminded everyone that while they are little in size, they can pose a very big problem.
    At least one serious case of  West Nile Virus was reported in the parish, prompting a state health official to remind residents to take precautions to “fight the bite” when outside.
    Most cases of the disease go unnoticed. The moderate version of the illness produces flu-like symptoms. The most serious form of the disease can be fatal, especially in the very young and the elderly.
D. Asian lady beetles appeared in the parish in record numbers in the late fall this year. The insect is related to, and closely resembles, the native lady bug. The imported model has a “W” or “M” -- depending on how you look at the bug -- behind its head. It also comes in a variety of colors and with the number of spots ranging from 0 to 20. It also bites and exudes a foul-smelling chemical to keep would-be predators away.
    They can swarm in the tens of thousands, wintering in attics and walls of area homes.
    The beetle is deemed more annoying than dangerous. Homeowners were told the best way to remedy the problem is to hire a trained professional exterminator to provide a permanent solution. 
     It first came to America as a “more aggressive aphid eater” than lady bugs, in hopes of helping Pennsylvania farmers. The bug is believed to have arrived in Louisiana on an Asian freighter unloading cargo in New Orleans.
E. The Police Jury closed the year by renewing its battle with beavers, pledging to advertise for a parishwide trapper and to consider the possibility of contracting with individuals to work in limited areas rather than parishwide.
    The large, flat-tailed,  big-toothed, web-footed rodents cause drainage problems by cutting down small trees to block natural drainageways and to plug up man-made culverts to create flooded areas where they can hunt, swim and raise their young.
    As with the feral hog, the beaver has no natural predator to keep its population in check. Beaver fur -- especially the less-plush fur of the Southern beaver -- is no longer in high demand and the meat is not on many residents’ menu. 
    The Police Jury will pay $45 per beaver tail, plus mileage reimbursement for the trapper, but only to those individuals with whom it contracts.

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