Pictured is the court house square looking toward Court Street in Ville Platte covered in snow and ice that fell in January of 2018. The massive snow fall painted all of Evangeline Parish white, which was an unusual sight to see for parish residents. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Top stories of 2018
From the passing of former Sacred Heart coach Dutton Wall to election controversies, big events to take place in Evangeline Parish were not few and far between.
There was no shortage of hot news items to fill the 104 editions of the Ville Platte Gazette published last year, which made narrowing it down to the top 10 stories seem like an impossible fete. The task was so difficult several major stories including the chamber of commerce name change to Evangeline Chamber of Commerce, a 23-year-old rape case being solved, the Smoked Meat Festival being canceled, the snow that covered the parish last January, and Mamou Elementary’s French Immersion program becoming a certified French Immersion program just missed making the top 10 list.
However, the stories that did make the top 10 list are below starting with Number 10.
Ortego retires; Forman takes over as publisher
Beginning the countdown of The Gazette’s stories of the year is the story of the paper’s own publisher/general manager retiring after 40 years.
David Ortego announced he was retiring in September after holding his position since June 1978. During his tenure, he guided the paper through a change in ownership when Louisiana State Newspapers bought The Gazette from Evangeline Publishing Company Inc. in 1988.
Replacing Ortego as publisher was one of his former employees Garland Forman of Bayou Chicot. Forman had previously been editor of The Bunkie Record for 31 years after starting his journalism career under Ortego at The Gazette.
Parish sports teams find
Three stories of parish sports teams earning on-field success combined together to make the number 9 slot.
The Pine Prairie Lady Panther softball team were LHSAA state runners-up after losing 9-1 to Caldwell Parish in the state championship game in Sulphur. The team finished the season with a 33-5 record and the District 5-3A Championship.
History was made two months later in July when the Ville Platte Tee-Ball All-Stars advanced to the Dixie Youth World Series for the first time. The all-stars under the direction of head coach David LaHaye travelled to Center, Texas, for the Region III tournament after placing third at the state tournament in Tioga.
Then, in November, the Basile Bearcat football team fell once again in the quarterfinals of the LHSAA playoffs. This time around they were defeated 44-14 by the Kentwood Kangaroos on the road. The team finished 2018 with an overall record of 10-3.
Three pillars of
Also combining together to make the number 8 slot in the poll are stories of three pillars of the Evangeline Parish community who passed away during the year.
The first of whom was former Sacred Heart head football coach Dutton Wall at the age of 78. He was a native of Amite and first came to Ville Platte in 1962 when he joined the coaching staff of Tony Misita at Ville Platte High School.
Coach Wall’s death was followed by fellow coach Curley Dossman at the age of 88. Coach Dossman served his country in the Korean conflict and then returned home to launch his career in public service. He was, among other things. an eductor, coach, principal, and member of the Ville Platte City Council and Evangeline Parish Solid Waste Commission.
Days later was the passing of former Mayor of Mamou Wilda Chamberlain at the age of 67. She was first elected mayor in 2003 and served two terms in office and also served on the parish’s solid waste commission.
pay raises for
For the first time in nearly 10 years, Evangeline Parish School District employees will be getting a pay raise effective July 1, 2018. The May story earned the number 7 position in The Gazette’s leaderboard.
The school board approved the raise after Evangeline Parish Superintendent of Schools Darwan Larzard requested a $600 pay increase for certificated employees and a $270 raise for support personnel.
The raise for support personnel was determined by giving them 45 percent of what certified employees will receive, which is the same formula used for sales tax distributions.
Cracking the list in the number 6 slot was a the story of a guilty plea ending the case of a Evangeline Parish woman found dead in a mop bucket approximately three years before.
Larry Slaughter, the initial suspect in the drowning of 29-year-old Latoya Richard, appeared before 13th Judicial District Court Judge Gary Ortego in September and pled guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 30 years at hard labor with 20 years suspended.
complaint on new mayor
The No. 5 top story of 2018 involved an election controversy after only one candidate qualified to become the Village of Turkey Creek’s mayor with only minutes left to qualifying.
The controversy was the result of Turkey Creek resident Keith “Bert” Campbell alleging Mayor-elect Phillip Cavins did not live in the city limits of Turkey Creek for more than a year when he qualified for the position of mayor.
Campbell also alleged outgoing mayor, Heather Cloud, orchestrated the move when she decided to run for secretary of state at the last moment and got Cavins to run for office. Campbell felt if Cloud would lose her run for SOS, Cavins would step down as mayor and force a special election so Cloud could run.
Campbell hired bondsman and private investigator James Bertrand to look further into this matter, which ultimately led to the discovery that Cavins had in fact been a resident of Turkey Creek for the necessary amount of time required by law to qualify to run for an elected position. This fact was proven by Cavins’ homestead exemption paperwork, which was dated for June 2017.
The allegation made that Cavins would step down is also proving to not be true being that the 23-year-old mayor’s swearing in date is set for today, January 3, 2019.
Other major election stories to happen this year included the defeat of long-time Ville Platte Council Member C.J. Dardeau by Faye Lemoine, defeat of Chataignier Mayor Jackie Malveaux Thomas by Justine Darbonne and the retirement of long-time Ville Platte Council Member Freddie Jack.
guilty for murder
of Kathy Weston
Making the No. 4 spot for top stories of 2018 involves the grand jury indictment and trial of Robert Marquez Wilson, who was arrested for the murder of Kathy Weston.
Weston was shot and killed by a stray bullet in April of 2017. At first Wilson’s brother, Tiberrious, was the prime suspect in this matter. However, after several months of investigations, Wilson became the main suspect believed to have pulled the trigger to the gun that released the bullet that claimed Weston’s life.
A grand jury indicted Wilson on one count of second degree murder in April of 2018, and then the case went to trial six months later.
During the trial, First Assistant District Attorney Marcus Fontenot presented the state’s case to a 12 person jury, while attorney Elbert Guillory represented the defendant.
The case for both sides hinged primarily on eye witness testimony and came down to which witnesses seemed more credible to the jury.
In the end, by a vote of 10 to two the jury found Wilson guilty of manslaughter, which was a lesser charge than the second degree murder conviction the state sought.
Wilson’s sentencing is set for this month.
African-American EPPJ President
The No. 3 biggest story to grace the pages of the Ville Platte Gazette in 2018 involved Ryan LeDay Williams becoming the first African-American to serve as the Evangeline Parish Police Jury President.
Williams is a 2003 graduate of Ville Platte High and attended McNeese State University for a period of time.
When he was named president, he had served a total of 10 years on the police jury after he replaced Ronald Doucet, who became Ward I Marshal.
The day following his selection as president, Williams said in an interview with The Gazette, “It feels pretty good to be able to just become the first African-American president, and it’s something I saw in the near future being that I served as the vice president under Mr. (Ryan) Ardoin for four years.”
to make arrest
The No. 2 hot news item reported last year involved Turkey Creek Chief of Police Robert Glenn Leggett being stabbed in the cheek by a suspect back in March of 2018.
The stabbing took place while Chief Leggett was attempting to arrest the suspect 24-year-old Zachery Deville.
The injury suffered by the chief forced Leggett to undergo emergency surgery at Rapides Medical Center. Today, Leggett has recovered from his injuries.
VPPD and EPSO
The No. 1 top story this year began in 2015 when the Department of Justice rolled through Evangeline Parish and began an investigation into law enforcement practices it deemed unconstitutional. The DOJ called it illegal investigative holds, which they said consisted of the Ville Platte Police Department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office holding individuals in jail without probable cause or in an effort to obtain information from the individual about a crime.
After several years of working on reforms for the two law enforcement departments, in June of 2018 the DOJ, the VPPD and the EPSO reached an agreement that shared the path forward for both agencies would consist of changes to how the departments operate.
These changes consisted of implementing policies that prohibit the use of investigative holds and a description of proper detention and interrogation techniques; training for officers, detectives, supervisors and command staff; data collection, analysis and risk management; and community outreach to rebuild community trust. Both departments also submitted agreements to the DOJ in which they explained how they plan to implement these reforms.