Archive for July, 2010

Search-and-rescue training focus of helicopter center

*published Jul. 26, 2010

Simulator instructor Lenny Smith watches and assists pilots David Beaulieu, left, and John Scanlon, both of LifeFlight of Maine, in the flight simulator at Era Helicopter’s search-and-rescue training center. BY BRAD PUCKETT

Era Helicopters, along with sister company Priority 1 Air Rescue, has opened a search-and-rescue training center in Lake Charles.

Paul White, general manager of the training center, said Era has been training third-party helicopter pilots, such as those of emergency rescue companies, law enforcement agencies and some foreign military, and saw a demand for search-and-rescue training.

“There is a very real need around the world for search-and-rescue services. I think the Deepwater Horizon shined a light on that,” White said. “If you’re 200 miles off shore and there’s a problem, the response time needs to be quick.”

One Era rescue helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW139, has a cruising speed of about 180 mph, White said.

Paul White, the general manager of the Era LLC training center, talks about the hoisting device on the helicopter used for air rescue. BY BRAD PUCKETT

White said companies and national governments are operating more often in dangerous areas, like the North Slope of Alaska and far off the Brazilian coast.

“We train our pilots in many different areas, so we know it can get very costly. This is just another training service we can offer to those other companies,” White said.

The course typically lasts two or three weeks, depending on an individual student’s qualifications before training.

Areas of training include offshore vessel, mountain and swift-water rescue and advanced rescue swimmer training.

White said Era has 180 aircraft and 300 pilots worldwide. About half of their pilots are based along the Gulf Coast.

The training center has two flight simulators, which is where pilots-in-training spend the majority of their time.

White said the simulator has software to recreate the terrain and layout of about 5,000 airports throughout the world.

A developer and graphic designer create cityscapes and urban terrain, when needed. After the simulator flights, instructors can go to a debrief station that has a recording of all flight simulations. The pilot is debriefed and given a copy of the footage as a study aid.

“The value of simulation is that the instructor doesn’t have to interject,” White said. “In a real aircraft, I may have to intervene to correct a trainee’s mistake.”

During a recent tour of the facilities, two pilots from LifeFlight of Maine were using the AC135 p2 plus helicopter simulator for a flight rules refresher course. On the classroom side, a small group of pilots was taking part in a haz-mat training class.

Over the past year, the Lake Charles Era training center has held more than 500 classes that trained about 2,400 operators.


July 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Prevention best medicine for skin cancer

*publlished July 25, 2010

Local doctors say residents need to protect their skin even if they are not going to the beach or are out boating.

“We know one of the major risk factors for melanoma is a history of sun exposure and burn early in life,” said Dr. James Gaharan, an oncologist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, who said the majority of his patients contracted melanoma after having a history of sunburn.

“A lot were out and about and just never used sunblock,” Gaharan said.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology called melanoma, a form of skin cancer, a major public health problem in the United States.

The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trend Progress Report for 2009/2010 says there were 68,720 new cases of melanoma skin cancer in 2009.

The main cause is unprotected exposure to the sun or artificial light.

“The main goal is to prevent sunburn by putting on sunblock every day,” Gaharan said. “I’m sure if you took a poll of road construction crews, many of them aren’t wearing sunblock.”

The level of SPF to use depends on the person’s complexion, Gaharan said.

“It’s preferable for a fairskinned, freckled person to stay out of the sun as much as possible, but if they are out, they should be using higher SPF like 50 and 100,” Gaharan said.

He said oilve-toned or darker person’s would be fine with SPF 30 sunblocks.

“It’s not nearly as common, but African-Americans can contract melanoma, too, if the person has not protected his or her skin.

A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that although the incidence of skin cancer is 10 times higher among whites, African Americans who contracted mela–noma had a much lower survival rate.

Of the 2,187 adults surveyed, 63 percent said they never use sunscreen and 31 percent said they protected themselves from the sun in at least one way, such as wearing a hat.

Gaharan said the risk of contracting melanoma is just as high when using a tanning bed.

“The last study I saw showed regular tanning bed users were at a way higher risk of contracting melanoma,” Gaharan said.

The study was released in June by professors at Brown University’s School of Medicine
A study of 2,269 patients found that those who used tanning beds the most — for 10 years of more —- were 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than others.

Gaharan also said early detection of melanoma skin cancer is also very important.

“If you have a lesion or mole that changes in some way, it’s time to get it checked out,” Gaharan said.

‘Don’t let it sneak up on you’
For children, who may be more susceptible because of their sensitive skin, sunblock is essential, said pediatrician Anatole Karpovs.

Karpovs said sunblock is especially important during peak hours of the day, between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The American Association of Pediatrics says sunscreen is safe for children as young as six months, but Karpovs said he usually recommends two months.

“There have been tests that show it’s safe for very young children,” Karpovs said.

He said the sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 and parents should test a small area on the child’s body to make sure there isn’t any redness, irritation or some type of reaction, before putting it all over the child’s body.

“I had a rare occurrence earlier this year where parents brought in a child with second-degree burns on her shoulders,” Karpovs said. “It just snuck up on them.”

Karpovs said he also thinks people are not paying much attention to tanning beds and the doses of radiation from them.

“I don’t have many parents asking about allowing their teenagers to tan,” Karpovs said. “They don’t really see an issue with it.”

Karpovs said he would always leave the decision up to the parent, but he believes tanning definitely damages the skin.

“Along with health risks, in the long-term, the person will have issues with premature aging of the skin,” Karpovs said.

He said he thinks people in general are more aware and educated about how important it is protect your skin from the sun, but it’s a slow change.

“There is a cultural thing with tans, and I think people just need to get to a point where they feel more comfortable in their own skin,” Karpovs said.


July 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm


Bonnie weakens to depression over Gulf

Roger Erickson of the National Weather Service briefs local officials and emergency personnel on the status of then-Tropical Storm Bonnie on Friday. BY BRAD PUCKETT

Officials from across Southwest Louisiana gathered for a Friday morning briefing on Tropical Storm Bonnie, but most contingency plans were scrapped by the afternoon as the system weakened to a tropical depression.

Bonnie entered the Gulf of Mexico at about 6 p.m. with sustained winds of 35 mph and was moving in a northwestern direction at around 17 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Lake Charles.

To listen to the news conference, CLICK HERE.

Meteorologist Roger Erickson described Bonnie as having an ill-defined center. Its speed and a disturbance in the Bay of Campeche were keeping the storm from becoming more organized, Erickson said.

Bonnie is still on a path to hit the oil spill, but Accuweather forecasters expected the weak system to help break up the surface oil. They believe there is still a chance more oil could be pushed into marshes.

A weather service advisory issued late Friday said Bonnie could again become a tropical storm today as it passes through the Gulf’s warm waters.

Tropical storms have winds of between 39 and 73 mph.

Landfall is expected this evening in southeast Louisiana.

Erickson said tides in Cameron Parish are expected to be between 1 and 2 feet above normal and that the Lake Area would get about 1 inch of rain.


July 24, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Mancuso: Rural areas present unique problems in fight against illegal drugs

*published July 24, 2010

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso

STARKS — The isolation and size of rural areas make it harder for authorities to combat drug distribution, said Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso.

“The problems here are the same as pretty much everywhere else in the parish,” said Mancuso, who spoke at a community luncheon Thursday. “But it’s harder in a rural area to get in here and buy drugs and make arrests.”

Mancuso used DeQuincy as an example of the longterm investigations required in areas where “everyone knows each other.”

“If you remember the deal in DeQuincy, it took us a year and half to formulate and put together that plan and get it to work,” he said.

Mancuso said the main drug complaints were related to the selling and use of marijuana, methamphetamine and prescription drugs.

He said deputies were gathering information and investigating cases, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

“We’ve gotten good information, but I always have to tell people, ‘This isn’t TV, where everything is solved overnight,’ ” Mancuso said. “We’ve had cases where we knew who the guy was, where he was, but we had to get the DNA tests back to make the arrest.”

Mancuso said he thinks the Sheriff’s Office substation in Starks has contributed to an increase in people coming forward with information.

“Our deputies are definitely in tune with what’s going on here, and we have had some arrests,” he said.

Mancuso said residents also asked him about previously rejected tax renewals that will be on the Oct. 2 ballot.

A tax of 5.75 mills — an increase over the present rate — for courthouse and jail maintenance was rejected last month. In October, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury will ask for renewal of the current 3.27 mills.

“I wish they would have done that in the first place,” Mancuso said. “I think we can work with it if you give us back what we already have.”


July 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm

OEP: Don’t underestimate risks of storm

*published July 23, 2010

Local officials today plan to begin preparing for Tropical Storm Bonnie, which formed in the Caribbean within the last couple of days.

Calcasieu and Cameron officials were in touch with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles on Thursday morning, before Bonnie became a named storm.

“The current path has it coming our way by the end of the weekend, and we have a briefing at 11 a.m. (this morning),” said Dick Gremillion, director of the Calcasieu Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Operations were moved to the first floor of 901 Lakeshore Drive after a water line broke Wednesday at the OEP. Gremillion said some equipment was damaged, but he didn’t consider the move a major inconvenience.

“We had everything set up where we could just unplug, pack it up and move if the building was damaged by a hurricane,” he said. “We’re good as long as we have Internet, which is much easier nowadays.”

Gremillion said officials would be back in the main building, at 911 Hodges St., in about three weeks.

On Thursday evening, Calcasieu Parish police jurors issued an emergency declaration in preparation for Bonnie.

Gremillion told the panel that the parish could be issuing advisories for residents who live near low-lying, flood-prone areas or those living in mobile homes in certain areas as early as today.

He said residents shouldn’t underestimate the strength and risks of a tropical storm.

Gremillion said he spoke with an Entergy representative who said that in a tropical storm could knock out power for 20,000 Calcasieu residents.

“That’s a third of the population of our parish,” he said.

Gremillion said that according to information from the National Hurricane Center, if the storm slows, there is a chance it could develop into a hurricane.

He said that if it stays at its same speed, it will likely remain a tropical storm.

Gremillion said that if the storm remains at tropical strength, the oil would likely not be pushed our way.

“If it slows down, that could be a different story,” he said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday in New Orleans that Bonnie’s current path may force officials to call evacuations for low-lying areas like Cameron Parish, according to WDSU-TV.

By the evening Thursday, Bonnie’s winds had increased to about 40 mph. The storm is expected to head northwestward and enter the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.


July 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Westlake council votes to maintain millage rate

WESTLAKE — The City Council on Monday voted to maintain the city’s millage rate at 6.4 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Finance Director Lonnie Smart said the maximum allowable increase to 6.49 would have upped the city’s income by only about $2,300.

“We just didn’t see the need to pass that on to the taxpayer,” Smart said. “It’s such a small amount.”

Smart said the recommendation was from the city’s senior accountant, Jimmy Ashworth.

“This doesn’t mean we won’t look at increases in the future, but right now we don’t see the need,” Smart said.

For the 2009-2010 year, revenue based on the assessed value of property in the city declined by $390,027 to $23,749,360, according to city records.

A taxing body may roll millages forward to make up for any loss of revenues caused by reduced assessment.


July 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Local priest faces surgery for Thursday burns

LeBleu injured in local health club’s sauna

The family of the Rev. Wayne LeBleu said Monday that his latest surgery for burns he suffered Thursday went well.

LeBleu of Christ the King Catholic Church was found unconscious in a sauna at a local health club.

He was initially taken the Christus St. Patrick Hospital, then was transferred to Baton Rouge General Hospital’s Burn Unit.

According to the family journal at, LeBleu suffered burns of varying degrees over about 22 percent of his body, with about 9 percent being thirddegree burns.

As of Monday afternoon, LeBleu had undergone the first of a series of surgeries in which doctors removed dead tissue to perform a skin graft.

His bandages will reportedly be removed in four to five days, when doctors can determine when to perform his next surgery.

Before the surgery, family members described him as responsive and able to breathe on his own and have some verbal communication.

Doctors are keeping him on a ventilator for the next 24 hours and limiting visitation because of the high risk of infection for burn victims.

The Caring Bridge website allows visitors to sign a guestbook and leave a message for LeBleu and his family.


July 20, 2010 at 8:26 pm


*published July 13, 2010
FEMA dismantles scattered fragments of village

One of the few remaining steps frames a front-end loader that is removing utilities from Crying Eagle Village on Monday. BY KAREN WINK

Contractors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency spent Monday dismantling remnants of Crying Eagle Village off Swift Plant Road.

Most of the trailers were taken away in mid-2009, and contractors are now removing fire hydrants, wiring, plumbing, poles and wood staircases.

Officials hope to lease the property to an industrial company, said Mike Dees, legal council for the Port of Lake Charles, owner of the land.

He said FEMA’s lease ended in February but that federal officials requested an extension so they could bring in contractors to remove the improvements.

Three hundred FEMA mobile homes fill the Crying Eagle Village in 2006. AMERICAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Dees said he couldn’t speak on the timing of the removal process, saying the decision was FEMA’s.

The park, built in May 2006, had 300 mobile homes, 200 travel trailers and at its peak housed about 1,000 people who were displaced by Hurricane Rita.

It was built by contractor Fluor Corp. and was managed by FEMA for most of its nearly three-year history. It was turned over to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before closing at the end of 2008.

When the park opened, officials said it would be occupied for no longer than 18 months.
Problems abounded during the park’s existence.

Residents of Crying Eagle Village — along with others in FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast — claimed they were made sick by formaldehyde in the trailers.

The issues came to light in July 2007 when members of Congress learned that FEMA officials had suppressed health warnings about formaldehyde.

Residents reported strange rashes, stomach problems, nosebleeds and headaches they believed to be caused by the chemical.

The tightly packed trailer park also proved to be a major problem for the Lake Charles Police Department.

Records show officers received 200-400 called-in complaints each year, with most being for fighting, burglary, theft and drugs.

The park had three civilian security officers who patrolled the grounds.

In March 2008, FEMA began charging residents still living in the park and offered a rental assistance program to help them find apartments.

By August 2008, about 100 people remained. The park was emptied by the end of the year.


July 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Helping police respond

LC Crisis Intervention Team earns national praise, award
The cooperative team of law enforcement and health care professionals helps treat the mentally ill.

Lt. David Anders


Police work isn’t just for the cops, it’s a communitywide job, said Lt. David Anders with the Lake Charles Police Department.

On Friday, Anders received the International CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Coordinator Award at the CIT International Conference in San Antonio.

The 26-year veteran helped develop the local program.

On the law enforcement side, officers and deputies take a 40-hour training course to learn how to identify and safely deal with people with various mental illnesses.

In his current position as CIT coordinator, Anders said he serves as a single point of contact for police, mental health and medical officials. His counterpart at the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office is Cpl. Darek Ardoin.

“We mainly try to make sure each agency has what it needs, and we put training sessions together,” Anders said.

On the medical side, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and mental health department operate a triage unit that includes overnight observation and has doctors, mental health specialists and registered nurses on call 24 hours a day.

Anders said this is a better alternative than locking up a person who needs medical treatment.

Spurred by tragedy
It’s been an up-and-down journey for the department and the program.

Anders has been involved in planning and implementation of the program from its beginning in 2004.

The push to start up the program was the result of a tragedy.

Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon had attended a conference in Memphis, Tenn., where the CIT concept was developed.

“He asked me to look into bringing the program to Southwest Louisiana, and as we were doing that we had the shooting with Mr. Ned at the high rise,” Anders said.

In the November 2004 incident, Edward Ned Jr., a mentally ill man, was shot and killed by Lake Charles police during a standoff in which he reportedly attacked an officer with a knife. “That kind of brought everything back to light,” Anders said.

Anders, Ardoin and local mental health advocates attended the Memphis Police Department’s training program.

“We brought everything back to Dr. (Cameron) Melville in McNeese’s psychology program and asked him to help us replicate the training,” Anders said.

As Dr. Melville mapped out the training for officers, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, setting everything back about 14 months, Anders said.

In October 2006, one month before the first CIT training class took place, a second mentally ill resident was fatally shot by a police officer.

Trent Buckins, 29, was shot in front of Reynaud Middle School. The involved officer, then Cpl. Kimberly Almirall, claimed Buckins lunged at her gun.

“So now we’d had two uses of deadly force by us on mentally ill individuals,” Anders said.
The first class, with 14 officers from the Lake Charles Police Department and Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, began the following month.

Since then, McNeese has held 12 classes and trained more than 300 officers from agencies throughout Southwest Louisiana.

“We have made it available to any agency in the state who wants to send people,” Anders said.

Dispatchers go through an eight-hour course on how to handle calls about someone who is suicidal or mentally ill.

“We make sure the dispatchers know it’s OK to ask if the person has a history of mental illness or if they are suicidal,” Anders said. “We want the officers to know what their (the suspects’) intentions are.”

Struggles for funding
The triage center was set up at Lake Charles Memorial with a $5.4 million federal block grant. It paid for the assessment and 23-hour observation unit for three years, after which officials hoped the state would take over.

Those hopes were dashed as the state faced a nearly $600 million budget shortfall because of declining revenues.

From June 2009 to February 2010, the unit was inactive, leaving police to revert to what Anders described as a revolving door for the mentally ill. Subjects would be taken to a local hospital to be treated and released.

“Our other choice would be to lock them up or take them to family members,” Anders said.

Even though the current program faces funding issues, mental health advocates said the program needs to expand, adding social workers to perform follow-up work and offer transitional housing, education and job training.

In February, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury approved $500,000 that — with another $200,000 from the state Office of Mental Health — should keep the unit open through September.

While the program remains on shaky ground, Anders is immensely proud of his work.

“Since this started, about 6,000 to 10,000 people have gone to the triage unit, and we’ve established a rapport with the nurses and psychiatric staff,” Anders said. “All of this makes a difference.”

The program has received national acclaim, and the state Department of Health and Hospitals uses Lake Charles as a model for crisis receiving centers.

Anders also said the program has had a significant influence on the police department.

“In the beginning, some older officers saw this as a touchy-feely program and, to an extent, it is,” Anders said. “But you’ve got people getting treatment in one place instead just sitting in jail overnight.”

“When I started in law enforcement, the mindset was that no one outside of the department could tell me how to do my job, but now we’ve brought everyone together: police, mental health specialists, pastors and educators,” Anders said.


July 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Men march against violence

The awareness-raising protest was part of Lake Charles’ Fourth of July parade.

A number of men joined the Sunday march in Lake Charles against domestic violence. BY KAREN E. WINK

About 120 men joined employees from the Calcasieu Women’s Shelter to march against domestic violence in this year’s Fourth of July parade.

The men walked the mile of the parade chanting, “Man up! Hands down! Stop domestic violence!” and holding signs made by children who live at the shelter.

They also passed out pamphlets that outlined facts about domestic abuse and the services available at the Calcasieu Women’s Shelter.

Anthony Chapman, a local minister, said he and his family took part in the march because he feels men should lead by example.

“We just want other men to see what we’re doing, and hopefully it’s something that will stay on their minds,” Chapman said.

To see a video about the event, CLICK HERE.

The idea came from Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach, who saw a news story about a group of men marching in Gloucester, Mass., said John Fontenot, president of the board of directors for the Calcasieu Women’s Shelter.

Fontenot said he hopes to create a united front by getting more men to speak out against violence.

Gerald Thomas, a detective with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Domestic Violence Division, said it’s about admitting that there is a problem.

“As far as suspects, most of them are male, and I think it speaks volumes when men stand up and say it’s a problem and needs to be stopped,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that at times his department is inundated with cases not only because it is a serious problem, but also because more people are speaking out.

“That’s the biggest problem we find, the victim didn’t leave because they didn’t know there were people who could help,” Thomas said.

Yvonne Manning-Smith with the shelter said volunteers will set up information booths at local businesses in the coming months.

In 2009, Thomas estimated that the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office handled about 2,600 domestic abuse calls.

A 2009 study by the Violence Policy Center ranked Louisiana worst in violence against women. The study used FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data for the year 2007.

Nationally, the rate of women killed by men in the “single victim/single offender” category was 1.3 per 100,000. In cases where relationships could be determined, 91 percent of the victims knew their killers. Louisiana, with 57 women killed, had a rate of 2.53 per 100,000.

For information, call the Calcasieu Women’s Shelter at 337-436-4552.


July 5, 2010 at 8:11 pm

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