Posts filed under ‘public safety’

RITA: FIVE YEARS LATER: Laying down the law

*published Sept. 23, 2010
Response shaped by Katrina lessons

Homeowners in Cameron Parish and lower Calcasieu Parish rebuilding after Hurricane Rita have to construct their homes to withstand at least 130 mph winds under legislation signed into law by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco in December 2005. BY BRAD PUCKETT

In the lead-up to Hurricane Rita, area law enforcement officials were tasked with managing the evacuation of Southwest Louisiana and parts of Southeast Texas. In the aftermath, they faced numerous obstacles, including blackouts in some cities and roads littered with nails, live power lines and trees.

Officers and shift supervisors talked to the American Press about some of the challenges they faced during and after the storm and what they’ve learned since.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, “We had lots of New Orleans evacuees in the Civic Center. Me and some of my guys had been in the New Orleans area for almost a week,” said Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon said.

He and Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso had been working in St. Bernard Parish when they got word to come back.

“The mayor (Randy Roach) called and said the Civic Center is full. The motels are full. We need everybody back,” Dixon said.

“What I saw in New Orleans could only be described as catastrophic. Rita was looking bad, too, and you couldn’t help but wonder if we were about to get the same thing.”

The first task was organizing evacuees in the Civic Center. They were checked for warrants and sex offender registration and were given writstbands.

“We had to move about 600 people to Burton Coliseum, and the Sheriff’s Office took over there,” Dixon said.

In the next 24 hours, schools were closed and evacuees had to be moved to shelters farther north, he said.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, Mancuso had deputies begin to evacuate more than 1,200 inmates in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes.

“This was one of the areas where, as prepared as we thought we were, there were things we didn’t foresee,” Mancuso said.

Prisoners were moved north via school buses, which Mancuso said wasn’t a secure way to transport them. Officers didn’t have enough handcuffs and leg shackles, leaving them to use plastic flexcuffs on many prisoners.

Also, the state prison system was already overburdened because of inmates evacuated in and around the New Orleans area.

In Cameron Parish, Sheriff Theos Duhon got help from state troopers and wildlife agents to evacuate the parish’s 9,000 residents.

“Then we were getting supplies together, making sure all my employees knew where to go up north,” Duhon said.

He said almost 100 percent of the parish evacuated — a saving grace.

*sidebar: Contraflow as a last resort

Mad scramble
As Rita continued to track toward Southwest Louisiana, officials said they remembered the events two weeks earlier in New Orleans.

In the 20 hours before Rita made landfall, law enforcement officials scrambled to fill any gaps in supplies or communication that may be caused by the storm.

“It’s a shame to say, but we learned a lot from being in New Orleans,” said Lake Charles police Sgt. Shawn Caldwell.

“If we had got the first big storm, I’m sure things would have been different,” said Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. James McGee.

“Access to fuel was the biggest problem I saw, so we knew that had to be a focus,” Caldwell said.

He brought in a large portable gas tank he owned, and called a fellow officer whose parents owned a gas station.

“We worked out an unofficial deal where they gave us access to their fuel supply,” Caldwell said. At first officers had to drive back and forth to Lacassine, then the family eventually gave the department their fuel transportation truck.

Dixon said he split the force in two, sending half to Coushatta Casino Resort in Allen Parish and the other half to camp in the parking garage at Christus St. Patrick Hospital.

Both Mancuso and Dixon then made personal overtures to law enforcement friends in other states — Dixon calling on colleagues from his days with the FBI and Mancuso calling the national sheriff’s association.

Mancuso staged more than 200 deputies at various schools in Moss Bluff, Sulphur, DeQuincy and Vinton.

Parish officials then hunkered down at the Sheriff’s Office on Broad St. around 5 .m. Friday Sept. 23.
Communication down

Rita made landfall at 2:40 a.m. Saturday on the Louisiana-Texas border just west of Johnson Bayou.

“It was a crazy night,” Mancuso recalled. “Early Saturday, with winds probably around 70 mph, I had to send deputies out into the storm.”

The Calcasieu Correctional Center’s surrounding fence was covered with a tarp. With the powerful winds, deputies had to cut it loose or the entire fence would have been ripped out of the ground, Mancuso said.

Around 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning, officials lost contact with their officers.

“We were without communication for about six hours that morning,” said Cmdr. Matt Vezinot. “We had in the plan, a group of people who would be runners if we had no communication at all.”

Deputies were able to switch broadcasts between different city systems, but runners were still needed in the rural areas of the parish, Vezinot said.

Dixon said the city radio system was intact and he called in officers from Allen Parish and St. Patrick Hospital.

Clearing roadways
Officers in Allen Parish “needed help from firefighters and had to cut their way down (U.S.) 165” to get back to Lake Charles, Dixon said.

“The wind was still blowing pretty hard, debris was everywhere. We had to zig-zag our way back to the station,” said Caldwell, who was stationed at the hospital at the time.

A common problem for both agencies: flat tires.

“The wind did the most damage for us,” Dixon said. “The roads were littered with nails, and I think we had almost 100 cars with flat tires over the first couple of days.”

Public safety and national guard crews came in to help clear the main roadways and outside help began arriving.

Teams came from Tennessee, California, Ohio, Alabama and Arizona, bringing manpower and equipment to help lock down the parish.

Agents came from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives brought helicopters with spotlights and supplied night-vision goggles.

Less than 24 hours into the aftermath, officials from Entergy said the entire electrical grid was destroyed and it would take about 30 days to get electricity in the area.

“At that point, we had to get a curfew in place. There would be some serious issues at night,” Mancuso said.

Parishwide curfews
Farther south, about half of Cameron Parish was underwater.

“We got to fly over the whole area on Sunday, and I remember hitting Hackberry and it was solid water all the way to the Gulf,” Dixon said.

Duhon said it took about a week and a half before deputies could go into the parish by car.

“We made it down there by boat and were constantly trying to keep people from coming in on their boats,” Duhon said. “Cameron Emergency Preparedness and the state didn’t want people down there because of damaged gas lines and general public health, but everyone really wanted to jump back in.”

“You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face (on night patrols),” said Lake Charles Cpl. Ben Randolph. Officers rode in two-man units, with some patrol and SWAT officers on foot combating looters.

Other officers served as static security at pharmacies and stores that sold weapons.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., county brought in a plane with an infrared imaging system.

“What we would do is have officers on the ground in areas where we had reports of looting,” Dixon said.

The plane would fly over an area, and anywhere body heat was projected, the pilot would send the coordinates to officers on the ground.

With strict enforcement of a sundown curfew, Mancuso said a message was quickly sent through out the parish.

Sheltering in place
Living conditions for officers varied. Mancuso and Dixon stayed in their respective buildings.

“At the time, our generators only powered a few lights in the building. It was brutally hot inside and outside,” Dixon said.

Calcasieu deputies were required to stay at a set school or building in their patrol area.

“We didn’t want anyone going to an unsafe place, said Calcasieu Cmdr. James McGee. “We were the ones who required them to stay so they were our responsibility.”

“My first task every shift was making sure everyone was healthy,” said Caldwell. “It was a stressful time. You weren’t sleeping well. You know your people, so you talk to them and weigh the problem.”

Each agency had a team of officers who went around checking and securing each other’s houses.

“That made a big difference,” Dixon said. “I think at least half of my officers had some major structural damage. It helped for them to know that they were being taken care of.”

Members of the community and local restaurant owners fed officers for almost three weeks.

“Believe it or not, we didn’t have anyone get upset or quit,” Duhon said.

Cameron deputies were able to get hotel rooms in Sulphur and stay in rental houses in southern Calcasieu Parish.

“I’ve never been through any storm this bad. I was in south Lake Charles when Audrey hit (in 1957) and I never anticipated that things would get this bad,” Duhon said. “It was quite a task but we learned. My crew here, when Ike hit, they were ready and we had everything we needed.”


September 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Trooper: Contraflow governor’s last resort

*published Sept. 23, 2010
Since Hurricane Rita struck Southwest Louisiana five years ago, officers say a lot has changed.

“During Rita, we didn’t have a set contraflow plan on file. We certainly didn’t plan for Texas to evacuate through our area,” said state police Sgt. Michael Edgar, a patrol shift supervisor.

Troopers were stationed along Interstate 10 to make sure traffic was flowing well.

“We decided early on that we were not going to actually investigate any crashes unless they were injury crashes. We’d just go and make sure they exchanged information,” Edgar said.

Troopers with gas cans were also stationed along the highway.

“After Rita, it didn’t take long to develop a contraflow plan,” Edgar said. “Up until then, we didn’t really think we needed it.”

Officials looked at afteraction reports, southeast Louisiana’s contraflow plan and met with DOTD officials.

“Contraflow is always a means of last resort that can only be implemented at the direction of the governor because it’s so manpower intensive,” Lt. Tim LeFleur said.

Working with other area law enforcement agencies, troopers would have to block off 32 exits and direct all traffic north and east.

Since the plan was developed, the state has never had to implement contraflow on any major highways.

*main story

Since Rita hit, U.S. 171 and U.S. 165 have been widened to four lanes through Shreveport and Interstate 10 has been widened to six lanes.

“Contraflow is only if we need to move a lot of people in a short time, and here in Southwest Louisiana, that’s not a problem,” Sgt. Ross McCain said. “We usually evacuate in stages, starting with Cameron Parish. That keeps the roads from being so congested.”

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said calling for an evacuation is always the hardest decision to make.

“I don’t know if people will always be so willing to evacuate. For Rita, the destruction from Katrina was fresh on their minds,” Mancuso said.

He said he understands that leaving costs money and encouraged people to be ready and have a little money saved.

“The sad part is we could tell them to leave and the storm side swipes us, causing minimal damage, but that’s kind of a chance we have to take living here,” he said.

Contraflow maps are available at State Police Troop D at 805 Main St.


September 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm

‘More people on edge’

*published Sept. 12, 2010
Mobile home park residents wary in wake of slayings

A week after a quadruple homicide in their neighborhood, residents at Fairview Mobile Estates expressed mixed opinions on the vibe of the park.

Donovan Fall, 25, who lives across the street from the mobile home in the Fairview Mobile Estates subdivision in which four people were slain last weekend, said, “I always saw a bunch of weird people coming and going from the trailer.” BY KAREN WINK

Donovan Fall, 25, who lives near the trailer where the four bodies of Crystal Dawn Fruge, 28, Kendrick Warren Lavergne, 29, and Terry Lynn Banks, 19, all of Lake Charles, and Jessica M. Eugene, 26, of Slidell were found on Monday, seemed a bit indifferent.

Fall said he saw Lee Roy Williams Jr., 52, who is being held on drug charges and as a person of interest in the homicides, and his truck at the trailer on a regular basis.

“He was always going around trying to get in people’s cars and steal stuff,” Fall said.

He also said there was a lot of activity at the trailer in general.

“I always saw a bunch of weird people coming and going from the trailer. My neighbors would tell me the same thing.”

Others said the homicides have caused them to be more alert and pay closer attention to their surroundings.

“I think it has more people on edge. I never would have thought something like that would happen just a few trailers down from me,” said Michael Caraway, 20.

Michael Caraway, 20, said he considered Fairview Mobile Estates at 5859 Tom Hebert Road to be “like a decent spot.” The slayings of four people, whose bodies were found last Monday, were in a mobile home “just a few trailers down” from his residence. BY KAREN WINK

Caraway said he has lived in the trailer park for about a year and had no personal knowledge of activities at the scene of the crime, but that his roommate would mention seeing Williams.

“This area always seemed like a decent spot. I don’t know about everyone else, but I never thought of it as being a bad part of town.”

Resident Megan Fontenot, 26, echoed Caraway’s statement.

“I felt safe here before this happened, but not now,” Fontenot said. “I had started to walk by myself for exercise, and I was going to ask a friend who lives here to walk with me, but not anymore.”

Fontenot, who has lived at the trailer park since the beginning of the year, said that she heard within the last three weeks that there had been several break-ins and possible drug activity at the trailer park.

“I saw the cops patrol here regularly before the murders, but even that didn’t stop what happened,” Fontenot said.

Fontenot lives several homes down from where the victims were found. She said she had never seen any of them or Williams.

“A lot of my neighbors say they are now sleeping with guns under their pillows,” Fontenot said. “My boyfriend and I are talking about getting a dog as well because they are good deterrents.”

Fontenot also hopes to add to the security of the whole mobile home park by starting a petition to have cameras installed along the streets.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some people moved out of here, especially if they don’t install some cameras,” Fontenot said.

Fontenot and her boyfriend plan to stay, even though the neighborhood has seen a heavy increase in vehicle traffic.

“People are driving in here to look at the murder scene. It’s aggravating and disrespectful,” Fontenot said.

“There was an 80-year-old looking couple turning around in my driveway the other day, and I know they don’t live here. They just wanted to get a look.”

William Bryant, who for the last two years lived directly across the street from the crime scene — along with his wife, her two daughters and their daughter — said that most people in the trailer park keep to themselves, but he recalled seeing Williams at the residence many times.

“Everyone knew that was the go-to place in the neighborhood (for suspicious activities),” Bryant said. “I saw Williams mostly at night, and that was a dead give-away right there that he was probably up to no good.”

Bryant said he had never seen anyone else in the neighborhood talk to Williams. “He’s a big guy, and kinda scary looking,” Bryant said. “I told my wife to stay away from there.” Bryant did not know any of the victims but said he had seen the youngest victim, Terry Lynn Banks, walking in the yard and arguing with someone on the phone the week before the deaths.

“The cops haven’t told us anything about the murders, but they were there 24/7 since the bodies were discovered,” Bryant said. “They cleared out at about 5 or 6 o’clock Wednesday afternoon.”

Late last week, lawn crews mowed the yard at the home where the victims were found, and, shortly after, two Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office personnel were seen entering the home with gloves on.
The victims’ bodies were found just before 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 6.

Calcasieu Parish Coroner Dr. Terry Welke said that all four people were killed at about 3 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 4.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Williams was identified as a “very, very, very strong person of interest.” He was listed as the owner of a Ford Explorer believed to have frequented the mobile home at Fairview Mobile Estates at 5859 Tom Hebert Road.

He was arrested in Baton Rouge on Thursday at about 3:30 p.m. near Lakeshore and Dalrymple drives after a brief standoff with LSU police and East Baton Rouge Parish deputies.

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said the investigation is ongoing and would like anyone with information on the crime to call Crime Stoppers at 439-2222 or sheriff’s detectives at 491-3605.


September 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm


*published Sept. 10, 2010
Person of interest nabbed in Baton Rouge after standoff

Lee Roy Williams Jr., 52, is taken into custody Thursday afternoon in Baton Rouge after a brief standoff with LSU police and East Baton Rouge Parish deputies. BY MARTIN MCCALLISTER/THE DAILY REVEILLE

A man considered a “very, very, very strong person of interest” in a local quadruple homicide was arrested Thursday afternoon in Baton Rouge.

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said 52-year-old Lee Roy Williams Jr. was arrested at about 3:30 p.m. near Lakeshore and Dalrymple drives after a brief standoff with LSU police and East Baton Rouge Parish deputies.

LSU students were notified via text message just before 3 p.m. to stay away from the area, which is just south of the campus. A second message, sent at 3:50 p.m., notified students that the man was in custody, according to the Daily Reveille newspaper.

Williams was in his blue Ford Explorer, which authorities had been searching for, and was with three people, who haven’t been identified, Mancuso said.

He said the search began Wednesday night when an Iowa police officer received information about two witnesses who encountered Williams at an Iowa hotel.

Early Thursday, a Calcasieu detective went to Baton Rouge to interview the two and learned information that helped officials determine Williams’ location.

“We called local police and within 10 minutes they called back and said they had (Williams) surrounded and they were starting negotiations,” Mancuso said.

Officers reportedly negotiated with Williams for about 15 minutes before he and the others surrendered.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office charged Williams with attempted first-degree murder of a police officer for reportedly trying to run over a detective at the scene during the standoff.

The were also assisted by Baton Rouge and state police.

Mancuso said two more detectives and two forensic investigators went to Baton Rouge to check the truck for evidence.

Calcasieu SWAT officers were also sent to Baton Rouge Thursday night to pick Williams up.

“We were also working with the district attorney and got a $5 million material witness bond, along with his possession of CDS warrant, so he’s not going anywhere,” Mancuso said.

Judge David Ritchie signed the warrant Thursday afternoon.

The victims, Crystal Dawn Fruge, 28, Kendrick Warren Lavergne, 29, and Terry Lynn Banks, 19, all of Lake Charles, and Jessica M. Eugene, 26, of Slidell, were found just before 10 a.m. Monday in a south Lake Charles mobile home.

Calcasieu Parish Coroner Dr. Terry Welke said all four were killed at about 3 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 4, but said he wouldn’t release a specific cause of death for the sake of the ongoing investigation.

Preliminary findings showed each victim suffered multiple injuries. Mancuso described the scene inside the trailer as “a mess.”

Blood was seen on the arm and foot areas of Tyvek suits worn by forensic specialists and coroner’s investigators as they collected evidence and the bodies on Monday and Tuesday.

Williams had lived in the trailer with Fruge and Eugene, and his truck was seen at the trailer on a regular basis, authorities said.

Mancuso said anyone who has additional information on the crime can call Crime Stoppers at 439-2222 or sheriff’s detectives at 491-3605.

“No matter how minor you think it is, call it in. It could help us,” he said.


September 10, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Three in LC face steroid charges

*published Sept. 10, 2010
State and federal authorities on Thursday arrested four people — three in Lake Charles and one in Baton Rouge — who officials say were part of a “significant” steroid-distribution ring throughout south Louisiana.

During the arrests, officials reportedly seized about $80,000 in cash, more than 300 vials of steroids and two weapons, and they dismantled two labs they said were used to manufacture steroids.

In Lake Charles, officials arrested Jordan Berza, 26, Bryce Meaux, 23, and Christopher Gass, 24.

Gass was charged with possession of a Schedule III drug with intent to distribute. Berza and Meaux were charged with possession with intent and with possession of a weapon while engaged in a drug crime and with running a clandestine lab.

In Baton Rouge, officials arrested Terry Kuykendall, 24, on a charge of possession with intent to distribute.

The investigation into the ring began earlier this year, said state police Sgt. James Anderson.

Kuykendall was reportedly the distributor of the drugs, while Gass, Meaux and Berza were getting the steroids shipped in from China.


September 10, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Person of interest sought

Calcasieu coroner: Four were probably killed around 3 a.m. on Sept. 4.

On Tuesday, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso identified a person of interest in connection with the deaths of four people found in a mobile home south of Lake Charles Monday morning.

Lee Roy Williams, 52, formerly of Meridian, Miss., is being sought. He is listed as the owner of a Ford Explorer believed to have frequented the mobile home at Fairview Mobile Estates at 5859 Tom Hebert Road.

Williams is described as a black male who stands 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs between 350 and 400 pounds.

Mancuso said Williams was seen with the four victims the evening of Friday, Sept. 3. He lived at the trailer at some point, but was also transient. Detectives believe he had been in the Lake Area for about three months.

“He has prior arrests and convictions for involuntary manslaughter, breaking and entering in Illinois, and larceny and forgery in Mississippi,” Mancuso said.

Detectives have an unrelated arrest warrant for Williams for cocaine possession.

Mancuso wouldn’t say if there was a specific drug investigation related to Williams or any of the victims before their deaths, but said narcotics detectives were involved to help chase down leads.

“We think Williams will help us formulate a motive when we talk to him,” Mancuso said.

He said Williams is believed to have headed east, and detectives have been in touch with officers throughout Louisiana and in other states.

Calcasieu Parish Coroner Dr. Terry Welke said that all four people were killed at about 3 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 4.

The victims, Crystal Dawn Fruge, 28, Kendrick Warren Lavergne, 29, and Terry Lynn Banks, 19, all of Lake Charles, and Jessica M. Eugene, 26, of Slidell, were found just before 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 6.
Welke declined to give a specific cause of death.

Preliminary findings showed multiple injuries to each victim, and Mancuso described the scene inside the trailer as “a mess.”

Blood was seen on the arm and foot areas of Tyvek suits worn by forensic specialists and coroner’s investigators as they collected evidence and the bodies on Monday.

Mancuso said investigators finished processing the scene Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve collected a large amount of evidence, which I think will help us,” he said.

Mancuso said detectives are still taking information from people who may know anything about the victims or Williams.

“No matter how minor you think it is, call it in. It could help us,” he said.

Residents can call Crime Stoppers at 439-2222 or the sheriff’s detectives at 491-3605.


September 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm

QUADRUPLE HOMICIDES: Bodies identified

*published Sept. 8, 2010
Each victim suffered multiple injuries

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Todd Ory opens a vehicle on Tuesday that is parked outside the residence at 5859 Tom Hebert Road in the Fairview Mobile Estates subdivision where four bodies were discovered on Monday. BY KAREN WINK

Officials on Tuesday announced the identities of four people found dead in a south Lake Charles mobile home Monday morning.

The victims are Crystal Dawn Fruge, 28, Kendrick Warren Lavergne, 29, Terry Lynn Banks, 19, all of Lake Charles, and Jessica M. Eugene, 26, of Slidell.

Eugene is believed to have been living at the trailer at the time of the killings, said Kim Myers, spokeswoman for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.

An alert remains in place for a truck seen at the mobile home on a regular basis — a blue, four-door, 2000 Ford Explorer XLT with the Mississippi license plate LCE 755.

Just before 10 a.m. Monday police responded to a 911 call from the mother of one of the victims. She had gone to the trailer off Tom Hebert Road to check on her daughter, whom she had not spoken to in a few days.

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Office Forensic Investigation Unit continues to investigate the deaths of four people at this mobile home at 5859 Tom Hebert Road. BY KAREN WINK

When she found the trailer locked, she called another daughter to bring a spare key. After seeing a body just inside the front door, the women called police.

On Monday, Sheriff Tony Mancuso described the scene inside the trailer as “a mess” but would not elaborate. Each body was reportedly in a different part of the trailer.

During the process of collecting evidence and the bodies, blood was seen on the feet and arm areas of Tyvek suits worn by forensic specialists and Coroner’s Office investigators.

Autopsies of the bodies began Tuesday and are expected to be completed today, according to the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office.

No specific cause of death or slaying motive has been determined, but each body had multiple injuries, officials said.

“We have not yet ruled out if this was a murder-suicide or if the violence may have been the result of some other criminal activity,” Mancuso said.

A Google search using the victims’ names turned up social media pages for two of the victims. Myers said detectives have looked at the social media sites to learn more about the victims, as well as speaking to friends and family.


September 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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