Evangeline Parish Sheriff Eddie Soileau is pictured here as he walks around the perimeter of a suspected crime scene in Point Blue where skeleton remains were found during the search of nine-year-old Bryson Thibodeaux. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
The best of 2019
The past year started with a bang as investigators uncovered human skeletal remains while searching for a lost child in Point Blue and continued with the City of Ville Platte raising utility rates for the first time in two decades and the parish getting caught up in the “red wave.”
Staff members of the Ville Platte Gazette were recently tasked with ranking the top 10 stories of the past year. The task undertaking to whittle down the entries was a difficult one, and some stories just missed the cut. Among those stories to just miss the cut is Lisa Celestine Jack from Vidrine Elementary being named the state’s middle school Teacher of the Year.
The following are the stories making the cut are revealed here starting from number 10 to number 1.
Gun violence breaks out in Ville Platte
There was a shoot-out in the early morning hours on Sunday, July 28, at the Y-Not Stop and Domino’s in Ville Platte. Three non-life-threatening injuries were reported. At least one vehicle was riddled with bullets, and so was Domino’s.
According to a press release from the Ville Platte Police Department, on July 28, 2019 at approximately 2:44 a.m., officers with the Ville Platte Police Department responded to a report of shots fired at the Y-Not Stop in Ville Platte. Once there, officers discovered numerous shots had been fired from back-and-forth between Domino’s and the Y-Not Stop. City police, two Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Deputies, and a Louisiana State Trooper began clearing the parking lot and were informed two vehicles were damaged by bullets and two black males received injuries from gunfire. One male was shot in his lower torso and was transported to Bunkie General Hospital and later to Rapides Regional Medical Center. He was released later that day. The second male was injured by a fragment in his lower torso. He was treated at Mercy Regional Medical Center and later released. Multiple caliber casings were found in the area which indicated multiple shooters.
Detectives learned a black male wearing dark jeans and no shirt, entered the Y-Not Stop and was in possession of a firearm. Detectives are seeking information on the identity of this person as well as the identify of the driver of the white vehicle matching the description of the suspect vehicle. The vehicle may possibly have bullet holes in it.
Days later, a five-year-old boy was shot Wednesday night while he was a passenger in a car driven by his father. According to family members, the father was driving home when a bullet hit the car, striking the child in the leg. The boy was rushed to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Ville Platte and was soon transferred to a Baton Rouge hospital by way of helicopter.
The parking lot at the emergency entrance of Mercy Regional was packed Wednesday night, full of family members and friends who were concerned about the boy’s condition. Ville Platte Chief of Police Neil Lartigue was there and said of the boy’s injury: “He had an entry wound and an exit wound. I think the bullet went in and out one leg and hit him in the other leg.”
A press release from the VPPD stated: “On July 31, 2019 at approximately 8:00 p.m., the Ville Platte Police Department responded to an incident where a male subject fired one shot into a vehicle injuring a five year old boy in the leg. The incident occurred in the 700 block of Edward K Thomas Street in Ville Platte. According to Chief Lartigue, the suspect has been identified as Quantavis Durgin age 17 whose last known address is 108 Reverend E. D. Alfred Street, Ville Platte. Durgin is wanted on the charge of attempted second degree murder in the shooting incident.
Cameron-Schlumberger lays off employees in Ville Platte
Recent developments in the oil and gas industry forced the laying off of approximately 70 employees at the Cameron-Schlumberger plant located inside the Industrial Park.
Evangeline Parish Police Jury President Ryan “LeDay” Williams confirmed the layoffs in a statement and said, “The Cameron-Schlumberger layoff that happened was most likely due to the downturn in the oil and gas industry along with the price of natural gas not being stable.”
He added, “Hopefully the oil and gas industry will strengthen back up and allow our people of Evangeline Parish to get back to work and have stability.”
Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine commented about the layoffs, “It is very hurtful. My heart and prayers go out to the employees because it is a tremendous impact on those who lost their jobs and on their families. I’m praying for all of their families.
Dozens more employees were also let go in a second round of layoffs later in the year.
Evangeline Parish School Board, for the first time in decades, votes to give board members a pay raise
For the first time in decades the Evangeline Parish School Board voted to give board members a $200 raise during Wednesday night’s meeting.
Board President Wayne Dardeau said, “I got on the board in 1990 and I know we have never voted for a raise. I also spoke with Doc (Bobby Deshotel) and he told me he doesn’t recall school board members ever getting a raise since he was elected in 1969.”
The increase in pay will now boost each school board member’s monthly paycheck from $600 to $800 a month - the maximum amount a school board member is allowed to make by law.
Ville Platte City Marshal Ronald Doucet passed away; wife was appointed to fill position
Ville Platte City Marshal Ronald “T” Doucet passed away Sunday, October 13, at the age of 51. In addition to being city marshal, he was also a former Evangeline Parish police juror. He was a beloved member of the community who will be missed by those who knew him.
Lisa Doucet, wife of the late Ronald Doucet, was appointed as Ville Platte City Marshal to fill the vacant position during a special meeting of the Evangeline Parish Police Jury later in the month.
“I just want to thank the people on the police jury for believing in me and for the people of Evangeline Parish,” Doucet said. “I want to serve them and do my best for Ronald in his honor.”
The appointment, however, did not come without the raising of a few eyebrows.
Juror Rocky Rider made the motion to appoint Doucet, and Juror Daniel Arvie immediately moved to close the nominations.
When the vote was called to close the nominations, Jurors Eric Soileau and Kevin Veillon abstained.
“I’m puzzled because there was another person involved who is not here,” Soileau said. “I would really like to talk to that person before I would have voted on this matter.”
Veillon congratulated Doucet on her appointment but echoed Soileau’s sentiments. “I have nothing personal against Ms. Lisa,” he said, “but I was sent an email or a text through the Jury stating someone would be nominated. I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to that person.”
Veillon continued, “I don’t know the other person at all, but I do know she worked with Ronald and was his right hand man. She is very qualified for the job. I know it’s only for a short time period, but I wanted to make sure I understood everything because I’m really confused.”
Voting to close the nominations were Jurors Arvie, Bryan Vidrine, Rider, President Ryan “LeDay” Williams, Lamar Johnson, and Ryan Ardoin. Juror Sidney Fontenot was absent.
The jury then voted on a resolution to call for a special election. Qualifying for the position of city marshal will run from January 8 through January 10, 2020, the primary election will be April 4, 2020, and the general election will be May 9, 2020.
Ville Platte Council votes to raise utility rates
After contentious public hearings and meetings, the Ville Platte City Council met at the Northside Civic Center for its regular monthly meeting and unanimously voted to raise utility rates for residents and businesses.
Before the meeting, a public hearing was conducted to discuss utility rate increases. Several members of the community spoke against the proposed 31% rate increase for residential customers and 47% rate increase for commercial customers. These rate changes would be split over two years, and, starting the third year, rates would increase 2.2% thereafter. Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine stressed this increase is not a percentage of bill increase, but rather rate increase, meaning the city is increasing the price it is charging for utilities.
Under the new rates, an average household size of one person who uses an average 2,000 gallons of water per month, and 10 CCF (cubic feet) of gas, would pay $8.35 per month more this year, and, starting June of next year, would pay an additional $9.56 more per month. This is the first time the rates have increased in the past 20 years.
DeQuincy Brown pleads guilty
A defendant in a 2017 matter where an individual was shot and killed by an Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Deputy, entered a plea of guilty in 13th Judicial District Judge Gary Ortego’s courtroom.
Dequincy Brown was sentenced to five years at hard labor, three and half suspended and three years of active supervised probation upon release from prison. She received this sentence for her plea of guilty to the charge of battery on a police officer.
Brown, who was represented by attorney Jacob Fusilier, also entered a plea of guilty for attempted disarming of a peace officer, and received a sentence of two years at hard labor, two years suspended, and two years of active supervised probation.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor cites Ville Platte Mayor and City Council
After receiving two separate complaints in 2018 of Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine allegedly misusing her city vehicle, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor set out on investigating and released its findings Monday, May 13.
The main finding is the mayor and several city council members appeared to have received compensation in excess of city ordinance. “From July 2017 to June 2018, the city appears to have paid Mayor Jennifer Vidrine and the board of aldermen (board) $40,734 in excess compensation,” according to an audit summary. “Although their salaries were set by ordinance, Mayor Vidrine received monthly vehicle and phone allowances and per diem payments for attending regular monthly board meetings, while board members also received monthly vehicle allowances and per diem payments for attending regular monthly board meetings. These allowances and per diem payments increased their respective compensation above the amounts set by ordinance. Payments in excess of the salaries set by the board may violate state law.”
City attorney Eric LaFleur, in a press release, stated, “For approximately 15 years prior to this administration, the city provided allowances to the mayor and council members that should have been defined and included in compensation. Regrettably, this technical error was never pointed out in the 14 or so previous audits that were conducted each year.”
Diocese of Lafayette releases list of priests accused of sexual abuse
The Diocese of Lafayette released a list of 33 priests and four deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.
The list is a result of an investigation by the diocese’s Lay Person Review Board that began last October. The board sifted through records dating back to the beginning of the diocese in 1918 and sifted through more than 300,000 pages.
Bishop Douglas Deshotel, in a statement, said the process in identifying other credible accusations will be ongoing and said he hopes “the disclosure list will be a catalyst for continued reporting of past or future instances of abuse.”
The list included Fr. Susai Arul who had served as associate pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Ville Platte.
Search occurs for missing nine-year-old boy, parents are arrested; human remains are found
The search for a missing nine-year-old that encompassed the entire Point Blue and surrounding areas came to an end with news the child was found safe under a bed inside a neighbor’s home. The parents of the child were later arrested on charges of cruelty to juveniles.
The finding of Bryson Thibodeaux was the culmination of a weekend long series of events that began with his reported disappearance on Friday, December 28.
According to a press release from the Evangeline Parish Sheriff Office, the child’s mother Minette Thibodeaux reported her son “left his residence from the 3400 block of Chataignier Road without his father’s permission or knowledge.”
On Saturday, December 29, 2018, during the intensive search for nine-year-old Bryson Thibodeaux, Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office Detectives received information that a local volunteer team search member had located human remains (a skull) underneath an unenclosed shed located on the Prairie Rhonde Road.
Upon discovery, Louisiana State Police was notified as well as the Evangeline Parish Coroner’s Office. The scene was secured until the arrival of LSU FACES on Sunday morning December 30, 2018.
Evangeline Parish District Attorney Trent Brignac on Friday shared an update on human remains that were recently discovered in an unenclosed shed located on Prairie Rhonde Road.
The district attorney said he reached out to Theresa Wilson, with the Louisiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Lab, who stated they are in the process of X-raying the bones discovered Saturday, December 29, 2018.
First Republican parish-wide officials are elected in Evangeline Parish
The ebb and flow of political control that has gripped Evangeline Parish has waned after a new dynamic emerged following last Saturday’s elections. In the aftermath, the City of Ville Platte and Ward 1, for that matter, has lost its dominance in the political landscape. Also for the first time, two Republican women candidates in Heather Cloud and Rhonda Butler were elected by the voting populace of the parish.
Here in Evangeline Parish, the vote totals were as follows:
• Rhonda Butler 6,115 votes 60 percent
• Phil Lemoine 2,582 votes 25 percent
• Taranza Arvie 1,559 votes 15 percent
In the State Senator race in District 28, as the winner over her two challengers.
Here in Evangeline Parish, the results were as follows:
• Heather Cloud 6,822 votes 61 percent
• Bernard LeBas 3,118 votes 28 percent
• Robert Johnson 1,153 votes 10 percent.
The race for assessor close as the vote differential was only 298 votes.
Republican Chris Guillory received 5,653 votes for 51 percent of the vote, and his challenger, Josh Fontenot, received 5,355 votes for 49 percent of the vote.
Then, in the November runoff election, Evangeline Parish voters elected Charles Guillory as the next sheriff of the parish Saturday night by an almost 3-2 margin over challenger Brian Ardoin.
Guillory received 7,426 votes, which was 60.74 percent of the total; while Ardoin received 4,800 votes, which was 39.26 percent of the total.
“It’s been a long hard ride, and I’m glad it’s over,” Guillory said.
“Evangeline Parish is a great place to live, and everybody knows that,” he continued. “I want to thank everyone tonight from the bottom of my heart. I will make you proud for electing me as sheriff.”
“I’m going to need a little time off and guess what. I’m going deer hunting.”