Archive for October, 2010

FANS FLOCK TO BATON ROUGE: McNeese puts up fight against LSU

published Oct. 17, 2010
SW La. tailgaters split loyalties, cheer for both teams
Article and photos BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

McNeese State University alumni load buses outside Cowboy Stadium Saturday morning to travel to Baton Rouge to watch the McNeese football team play LSU. This is the first time the two schools have played each other in football. BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS/AMERICAN PRESS

BATON ROUGE — McNeese State tailgaters were well-represented at LSU on Saturday.

Around 11 a.m., more than a dozen charter buses of alumni left Cowboy Stadium bound for Baton Rouge.
Some had split loyalties through the years, cheering for both teams.

Ocie McGuire of Sulphur said he usually cheered for LSU, but now that they are playing McNeese, he had to pick his alma mater.

LSU’s 32-10 victory marked the first time the teams have played in football because the schools compete at different levels. McNeese and LSU have competed regularly in other sports, including baseball.

McNeese’s athletic department was guaranteed $405,000 for playing LSU, which was ranked No. 9 in last week’s Associated Press media and USA Today coaches polls. A crowd of 92,576 saw the action, with McNeese selling all 6,000 tickets it was allotted.

Walter Eubanks of DeQuincy, an alumni of McNeese and LSU, said he just planned to enjoy the game.

“They always played good games in baseball. I think this will be a good football game, too,” Eubanks said.

Gregory Captain of Iowa — another dual alumni — and his wife, Annie, said they loved the in-state game.
“It’s just a nice gathering for me,” Gregory Captain said.

“It’s something to bring the state together, I think,” Annie Captain said. “Great weather and it’s gonna be a great atmosphere, cause this is Louisiana.”

Children play football in front of Scott Pendarvis’ tailgate area on Saturday. Pendarvis, a former McNeese State quarterback, said he grew up tailgating at LSU with his parents.  BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS/AMERICAN PRESS

Gary Farber, a season ticket holder for McNeese games, also said he loved the in-state opponent aspect.

He and his wife, Theresa, said they couldn’t pass up a chance to go to this game.

“Just like when Southern came here (Lake Charles), this game sold out quick and it was a great crowd and a great game,” Farber said.

Over at Touchdown Village, where RV owners tailgate just off LSU’s campus, McNeese and LSU fans mingled at every RV.

Eva and V.J. Abate of Lake Charles were out with about 25 people.

“We usually tailgate for all of the McNeese home games, but my husband was able to get us a spot here for his RV,” Eva Abate said.

Former McNeese quarterback Scott Pendarvis was tailgating with a mixed crowd of about 20 people.

“I’ve been tailgating at LSU my whole life, and when I went to McNeese, my parents came there,” Pendarvis said.

His older brother and wife Lynsie graduated from LSU, but he said their 1-month-old son, Wyatt, will be “all McNeese.”

Pendarvis said he hoped the game would serve as a learning experience for the Cowboys, who play football in the Southland Conference.

“McNeese is a big underdog, but I think they can use the game to get better. The final score may not show that,” he said.

LSU defender Kendrick Adams chases McNeese tailback Andre Johnson in Saturday night’s game. BY BRAD PUCKETT/AMERICAN PRESS

James Marchand of Sulphur was tailgating with his three brothers, all LSU alumnus.
He said he is glad the two schools finally played each other in football.

“I don’t know why it took so long for them play each other,” he said. “Being a fan of McNeese and an even bigger fan of LSU, it’s just great they finally did this.”

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October 17, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Curbing teenage drinking

published Oct. 16, 2010
Project Know party patrols, DWI checkpoints working
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Almost a year into an initiative to combat underage drinking and drunken driving in Calcasieu Parish, officials feel the mix of outreach and enforcement has made a big difference.

In law enforcement, “we hit them three ways,” said Cmdr. James McGee with the Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office.

Along with random and rotating DWI checkpoints, deputies have party patrol details where they investigate calls about underage drinking.

RESULTS
According to the Sheriff’s Office, since the party patrols began in February:
Deputies have shut down 82 parties where underage drinking was taking place and issued 153 summonses.
Deputies have conducted 2,505 compliance checks on parish bars and businesses.
Set up 20 standard and rotating DWI checkpoints.
Stopped 1,857 vehicles.
Conducted 541 field sobriety tests.
Made 128 DWI arrests; 8 were underage drinkers.

McGee said that over a nine-month period, deputies checked about 2,500 businesses that sell liquor to make sure they weren’t selling to anyone under 21 years old.
“We have a 93 percent compliance from our businesses, so the problem now is older kids, siblings and relatives buying alcohol for teens,” McGee said. “That’s not a law enforcement issue; it’s a community and family issue that has to be addressed.”
Sgt. Jason Bergeron said officials each night investigate two or three calls placed to an anonymous hot line, along with information from school deputies.
“And we’ve drove up on quite a few parties, too,” Bergeron said. He said one of the biggest parties was broken up when a deputy saw about 30 cars parked along a street.
“He drove by and there were three teenagers, standing in the front yard, drinking beer,” Bergeron said.
McGee said school deputies are important to have on each detail because they interact with teenagers every day. The patrols are usually scheduled around teenage activities.
“We know when they’re out of school, when homecoming is at which schools, and deputies can sometimes be out every weekend,” McGee said.
Lt. Nick Fontenot said he’s gotten mostly positive feedback from parents, who are usually concerned about where the teens are getting the alcohol.
McGee and Fontenot, both parents of teenagers, said they were aware of the prevalence of underage drinking in Louisiana and were always concerned.
A 2008 survey in Calcasieu Parish found that when students were asked if they had drunk an alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days, 9.3 percent of sixth-graders said yes, and the numbers steadily increased with age.
For eighth-graders, it was 26.1 percent; for 10th-graders, 41.4 percent; and for 12thgraders, 50.7 percent.
“We were concerned and were glad to see other parents were concerned, too, because all we can do is cite these teenagers. It’s up to the parents to curb the problem,” McGee said.
Fontenot said some parents didn’t think it was illegal to supply their children with alcohol in their own homes. A parish ordinance makes it illegal to dispense alcohol to all minors.
McGee said they have also attributed a drop in overall vehicle burglaries and property crimes — 14 percent and 17 percent, compared with 2009 — to checkpoints and party patrols.
“You have kids at parties who are drinking, and they go out, they break into cars, run over mailboxes. That has been a big deal in rural areas for years, and we’re seeing those numbers go down,” McGee said.
All of the deputies said that while their part is important, education continues to make the biggest difference.
McGee said more parents are aware of research that shows drinking at an early age inhibits teens’ brain development and may cause problems later in life.
“We used to hear, ‘Well, we did it when we were younger,’ but now they know the effects and we didn’t know any of this before,” McGee said.


Anonymous tip line: 491-3618.

October 16, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Reward offered in 2008 murder

published Oct. 15, 2010
FBI, Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office offer $20,000 for man’s arrest
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Local FBI agents on Thursday announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a man wanted for a February 2008 murder.

Since April 2008, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office has had an arrest warrant and indictment for 22-year-old Jose Manuel Garcia Guevara for the slaying of his neighbor, Wanda Barton, 26.

He is charged with second-degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated burglary.

“We believe he broke into her mobile home, raped her and then stabbed her to death,” said Sheriff Tony Mancuso.

Barton’s body was found on the morning of Feb. 20 in her south Lake Charles mobile home. Her 4-year-old son was found in the trailer unharmed.

The next day, detectives identified Garcia Guevara as a person of interest. He has been missing ever since, and officials believe he fled to his hometown of Rioverde, San Luis Potosi, in central Mexico.

Mancuso said that since the slaying two years ago, local officials have been assisted in their search by the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. marshals.

Federal officials have issued a warrant for Garcia Guevara for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
He is described as being 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 185-190 pounds.

Mancuso said there is a chance Garcia Guevara has tried to travel to Dallas, Houston or New Mexico using fake documents.

“This case has been profiled on our FBI website and ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ ” said Hall Jones, senior supervisory agent for the Lafayette-Lake Charles area.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 491-3605 or the FBI at 433-6353.

October 15, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Driver killed in single-car crash Thursday

published Oct. 15, 2010
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS
One person died Thursday in a single-vehicle crash that happened at about 8:25 p.m. on Interstate 10 East just west of Sulphur, near mile marker 16, state police said.

The driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene, wasn’t identified late Thursday because family members hadn’t been notified, officials said.

Sgt. James Anderson said the person’s identity and details about the crash would be released later today.

October 15, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Area experiencing several grass, brush fires as drought persists

published Oct. 8, 2010
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

A wildfire burns on Rabbit Island near the Interstate 210 bridge Wednesday afternoon. Dry conditions contributed to the spread of the fire. The cause is unknown. BY BRAD PUCKETT/AMERICAN PRESS

As a statewide burn ban remains in place because of near-drought conditions, Louisiana fire and forestry officials remain on high alert for violators.

“Right now we’re seeing brush fires from people throwing cigarettes out of their car or people violating the burn ban,” said Chief T.A. Jones with the Lake Charles Fire Department.

In September and October 2009, records show the Lake Charles Fire Department worked 22 brush or grass fires. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 7 of this year, firefighters have put out 28.

Jones said the area was experiencing dry conditions last year as well, but not as bad as he’s seen this year.

Jones said that with the ban in place, anyone caught can be charged and fined up to $500 or the costs of putting out the fire, which can vary.

“We just really need people to pay attention because any spark can start a fire in these weather conditions,” Jones said.

The southwest district and many other areas of the state have a rating of 600 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.

“Every 100 points is 1 inch of soil without any moisture,” said Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association.

The southwest district consists of Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Jeff Davis, Rapides and Vernon parishes. “There is a concern for any area ranked 600 or higher, and that’s most of the state right now,” said Don Smith, head forester with the state Agriculture Department.

Vandersteen said the chance for a major fire is highest in the northern part of the district where the lumber industry operates.

He said forestry is the state’s largest agricultural industry, with about 13.9 million acres of forestland.

In September, Agriculture Department firefighters handled 77 fires, which destroyed 430 acres in the southwest district, Smith said.

“Just over the weekend of Oct. 2, they had 37 fires for 230 acres destroyed,” Smith said.

Statewide, for August-September the department handled 407 fires that destroyed more than 3,400 acres, compared with 56 fires burning 152 acres during the same time in 2009.

“For every acre, we estimate that the state loses about $1,000 (in income and taxes),” Vandersteen said.

Tina Meiners of the Louisiana Forestry Commission is based in DeQuincy and said the loses from fires exasperate an industry that is already affected by a depressed market.

“The number of new houses being built is down and may be for a while longer, more people are being encouraged to go paperless, so the fires just add to the losses up and down the chain,” Meiners said.

“Landowners lose time and money because they have to replant trees, and loggers and mills cut back on hauls and hours.”

Vandersteen said the current dry conditions and shortages at the Agriculture Department due to budget cuts set up a dangerous situation.

“Commissioner (Mike) Strain has tried hard not to lay off firefighters, but cut other areas like fuel and maintenance,” Vandersteen said. “Instead of taking their trucks and fire plows home, they park them in a central location.”

Vandersteen said most wildfires are started by arsonists and that having to drive to a separate location to get to vehicles can add up to 35 minutes to firefighters’ response time.

October 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm

McNeese student hit by car dies

published Oct. 7, 2010
19-year-old remembered as ‘a sweetheart’ by former principal
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

A McNeese State University freshman who was critically injured in an auto-pedestrian accident on Monday died Wednesday morning, hospital officials said.

Ashlea Richard, 19, of Welsh, was pronounced dead just before 10 a.m. at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Jamie Gaines.

Richard’s family said she was an organ donor.

Richard had graduated from Welsh High School in May.

Welsh High Principal Pat Deshotel described her as someone who “always had a smile on her face and a kind word for everybody.”

“She was a sweetheart. That’s the best word I can use to describe her,” Deshotel said.

The accident and Richard’s death have reignited a debate about the safety of crosswalks on and around the campus and students who jaywalk instead of using them.

Richard was struck trying to cross McNeese Street, from the freshman parking lot to the main campus.

McNeese police on Wednesday issued jaywalking citations on the streets around campus, and more students were seen walking to intersections to use crosswalks instead of trying to cross streets elsewhere.

Students have suggested the use of more signs and lighting at crosswalks; construction of a pedestrian overpass at McNeese and Common; and the building of a parking garage, which university President Philip Williams said isn’t feasible in the near future because of funding issues.

October 7, 2010 at 11:25 pm

ACCIDENT AT MCNEESE: Student hit by car

published Oct. 5, 2010
Freshman remains in critical condition
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Lake Charles and McNeese police officers work the scene of a pedestrian and vehicle accident on McNeese Street near the Common Street intersection on Monday. BY KAREN WINK/AMERICAN PRESS

A McNeese State University freshman was in critical condition Monday after being hit by a car while crossing McNeese Street near the campus, authorities said.

The student, Ashlea Richard of Welsh, was struck at about 7:30 a.m. near Common Street, Lake Charles police said.

Police provided no details on the extent of Richard’s injuries. No charges have been filed against the driver, and officers don’t suspect he was impaired. Blood samples for toxicology tests have been taken, Cpl. Jeff Keenum said.

Students at a crosswalk on Ryan Street in front of Kauf–man Hall had mixed opinions on their safety when crossing streets near and on campus.

Senior David Breland, 25, said he hasn’t had any close calls crossing the streets, but had seen cars try to speed through crosswalks when students had the right of way.

The Ryan Street crosswalks have lights in the street and on signs for drivers to see.

While talking to Breland, the American Press saw a pickup truck driver — apparently distracted by a cell phone call — slam on his brakes to avoid hitting a student in the crosswalk.

Graduate student Pranaya Pokharel, 24, said there is plenty of blame to go around on the crosswalks. “You can’t just blame (the driver or pedestrian). I think both could stand to be more cautious,” Pokharel said.

Sophomore Kate Ash and junior Samantha Karraj, both 20, said students crossing McNeese Street often jaywalk rather than use a nearby crosswalk.

And while both said there should be lights on the street at McNeese and Common, as well, they said that may not fully resolve the problem.

“If it’s midday, the sun makes it hard for drivers to see the lights on the road, and some drivers don’t think they should have to stop,” Karraj said.

“Earlier today while we were crossing, a guy in a pickup truck was revving his engine at us, and we had the right of way.”

While the American Press talked to Ash and Karraj, another driver had to slam on his brakes just before the crosswalk. The driver, clearly upset, made hand gestures toward the crossing student, who ignored him.

October 5, 2010 at 11:21 pm