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Water covers La. 757 (North Bobcat Drive) in Eunice after flooding rains on Aug. 13. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)

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Newly elected Eunice Mayor Scott Fontenot, center of photo, celebrated his victory at Ruby’s on March 5. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)

Top stories from 2016

Flooding, new mayor are top stories for The Eunice News

Flooding in August was the top story for the Eunice area.
But there were several other stories that grabbed attention and the front page.
The articles were researched on NewsBank, which contains archives of Eunice News stories since 2008. NewsBank is accessible at eunicetoday.com.

Hard rain turns
into flooding
The rain started on a Friday and turned into a deluge that would cover roads and flood homes and businesses by early morning Aug. 13.
Eunice Mayor Scott Fontenot said the water was neck-deep in places.
People were being rescued by boats and fire trucks as the water rose in Eunice
Despite the flood of water and chaos, no injuries were reported. he said.
The Red Cross and the National Guard arrived to help victims. FEMA would set up a disaster recovery center in Eunice.
Estimates about how much rain varied, but 20 inches was not an uncommon number.
“I’ve never seen the water like that,” Fontenot said.
The mayor would estimate about 200 residences were flooded in the Eunice area.
The flood damage was etimated in the millions of dollars.
State officials reported 11 people killed, 40,000 homes damaged and more than 30,000 rescue since Aug. 12.

Fontenot elected mayor
After serving as interim mayor, Scott Fontenot was elected by Eunice voters on March 5 as mayor.
Fontenot, son of three-term police chief Gary “Goose” Fontenot, was 33 years old when elected — the youngest in Eunice history.
The mayor-elect pointed out his father ran unsuccessfully for mayor in a special election 20 years ago.
Ken Peart would win that election.
Fontenot served as interim mayor after former Mayor Claud “Rusty” Moody resigned as his health failed in November 2015.
The path to the mayor’s office wasn’t an easy one for Fontenot.
His candidacy was challenged in a court case that reached the state’s Supreme Court in January. The Court cleared his candidacy, which ended with 69 percent of the those casting ballots electing him.
In the same election, Dale Soileau won election as Ward 4 alderman, filling the newly elected mayor’s previous position.
The next election for mayor and alderman’s races will be in the fall of 2018. The current mayor and board member terms end Dec. 31, 2018.

Hundley paroled
for 1997 murder
of Eunice girl
Andrew Hundley, who was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of 14-year-old Terri Elizabeth Pitre of Eunice in 1997, walked out of the Baton Rouge State Police Barracks after being released on June 9.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that no defendant under the age of 18 can be sentenced to a mandatory punishment of life without the benefit of parole.
The case was notorius when it unfolded.
On the morning of July 23, 1997, an employee with The Mowata Store found Pitre’s body behind the business. Eighteen hours later, authorities arrested Hundley, then 15 and described at the time as being a “teacher’s pet and political wonder boy,” for the crime. In his confession, he admitted to hitting Pitre oncein the back of the head at which point he didn’t know whether she was dead for sure. He then made the conscious decision to “finish the job” and returned to strike her approximately 15 times in the back of the head with a length of metal or wood.
Hundley was possibly going to be charged with manslaughter but by returning he bypassed the road to a manslaughter charge and was on the road to second-degree murder.
He returned, yet again, to attempt to burn the body. When Pitre’s body was discovered by the store employee, it was still smoldering.

Suspects in Eunice killing returned
The man and woman linked to the death of Akeem Ceaser, 22, of Eunice, were returned to the Eunice City Jail March 15 from San Angelo, Texas, Eunice, Police Chief Randy Fontenot said.
Phillip Lafleur, 22, and Candice Vidrine, 21, both of Eunice, were identified Feb. 19 as suspects in Ceasar’s death, which has been ruled a homicide by the coroner.
Vidrine, of the 900 block of North CC Duson Street, Eunice, was charged with accessory after the fact to second-degree murder and obstruction of justice.
Lafleur, of the 300 block of North 12th Street, Eunice, was charged with simple burglary, theft of a firearm, simple criminal damage to property and second-degree murder.
In Texas, Vidrine was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Lafleur was charged with evading in a motor vehicle, felon in possession of a firearm, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as well as outstanding warrants.
Lafleur was indicted in May for second-degree murder and Vidrine for accessory after the fact to the second-degree murder of Ceasar,
Ceaser’s body was found Feb. 1 in a wooded area north of East Magnolia Avenue. He had last been seen Dec. 24.
Lafleur and Vidrine have trial dates this year.

Former sheriff’s PIO wins
congressional seat
Former St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Higgins won a commanding victory over PSC Commissioner Scott Angelle in the 3rd Congressional District in the Dec. 10 election.
Higgins won 56 percent of the vote with a total of 77,670 votes to Angelle’s 60,760.
Higgins won fame with his Crime Stopper performances, which eventually gained him recognition as the “Cajun John Wayne.”
In February, Higgins quit his job at the St. Landry Sheriff’s Office in a disagreement with Sheriff Bobby Guidroz over the tone of the Crime Stoppers performances.
Higgins announced his resignation as the office’s public information officer and St. Landry Parish Crime Stoppers spokesman, a job he has held for almost 16 months on the St. Landry Parish courthouse steps.
The resignation opened up an exchange between Higgins and the Guidroz.
Guidroz said, in a news release, “The public needs to remember the department public information officer is a spokesperson for the sheriff and represents the sheriff’s words, thoughts and message. If Clay Higgins cannot agree with my words, thoughts and message, then he is correct in resigning his position.”
The sheriff said Higgins had resigned his position with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff Department because according to Higgins, “He disagreed with my orders.”

LSUE fall
enrollment rose
Enrollment is up 15.9 percent for the fall semester at Louisiana State University Eunice over the fall of 2015, according to final regular fall semester enrollment figures released by the university’s registrar’s office in September.
Enrollment is at 2,906 students.
LSU Eunice Chancellor Kimberly Russell said the university had one of the largest freshman classes in its history.
LSUE’s freshman class increased by 21.7 percent over fall 2015 and is the largest freshman class in five years. LSU Eunice’s largest freshman class was 2,236 in 2010.

St. Landry Parish gets a new school superintendent
Opelousas native Patrick Jenkins was selected as school superintendent by the St. Landry Parish School Board on a 7-6 vote on Oct. 5.
Jenkins, 48, won the job from a field of 10 candidates. Five candidates were interviewed in a first round on Sept. 21.
The final three candidates, Jenkins, Dr. James Gray and Francis Touchet Jr., made their final pitches to the board on Oct. 5.
Jenkins has a bachelor science degree in secondary mathematics education and master of education degree in administration and supervision from Southern University.
He began his education career as a mathematics and science teacher at Hines Middle School in Newport News, Virginia. He also taught at East Baton Rouge Parish and West Feliciana parish schools. In 2006, he became principal at Zachary Elementary. In 2012, he became director of operations for the Zachary Community School District. Most recently, he was principal of Copper Mill Elementary in the Zachary district.
In addition to his education career, Jenkins served 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard. He retired with the rank of major.

Parish finances end year in trouble
St. Landry Parish Government ended the year with a deficit of about $700,000.
Up to 17 parish workers face losing their jobs.
However, the 2016 ending balance is budgeted at $1,1 million in the General Fund.
A former accountant at LSUE, Amanda Cain, was hired to guide St. Landry Parish Government through its fiscal crisis. Cain’s hiring was announced by Parish President Bill Fontenot at an Administrative-Finance Committee meeting.
Fontenot cited a reduction in severance tax revenues, increased mandated expenses, increased employee benefits and capital expenditures for the deficit.

Liberty Theater closed for repairs
The Rendez-vous des Cajuns show at the Liberty Theater was closed in May until water damage could be repaired, Eunice Mayor Scott Fontenot said.
“It is not something that just happened overnight. This has been something, I guess, progressed over the years,” he said.
The south side of the theater has been subject to moisture problems due to poor drainage, he said.
“Lance Hatten, superintendent of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, said, “The Liberty Theater was built in the 1920s, and as we all know, historic buildings take a lot of love and a lot of work to keep them in good condition.”
The city owns the theater and the park service owns the annex adjacent to the theater, he said. The facilities are operated under an agreement between the city and the park service.
Renovations to stop the mold problem cost about $70,000.
Removing the black mold cost $68,500, Fontenot said. The National Parks Service is paying $8,500 to address the mold issue in the annex to the theater.
The mayor wants to do other renovations, which could bring the total up to $100,000.

Federal deseg lawsuit against St. Landry Parish schools dismissed
A desegregation lawsuit filed in May 1965 against the St. Landry Parish School Board was dismissed Aug. 30 by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty.
Superintendent Edward Brown announced the end of the suit, Marilyn Marie Monteilh, et al, vs the St. Landry Parish School Board, at the Sept. 1 School Board meeting in Opelousas.
The end of the order allows the school system to make its own decisions in accordance with state law.
Removal of the order is going to bring change to the school system. Federal court directives included allowing majority to minority student transfers.
Another Eunice Board member, Albert Hayes Jr., said, “Achieving unitary status is a goal that has been sought for the 50 years we’ve been under the desegregation order. It is my hope that going forward our system will be unitary and there will be no need to revisit the type of litigation that was necessary 50 years ago.”
In 2011, Federal Judge Tucker Melancon outlined a five-year plan to end the desegregation case on July 1.
The school district has taken several actions resulting from the federal oversight.
The 2011 settlement included:
Creating a Magnet Academy of Biomedical Sciences at Opelousas High School;
Enforcement of attendance zones;
Encourage minority applicants to apply for employment;
Encourage desegregated student participation in the gifted and talented programs;
Offer the majority to minority transfers; and
Continue to operate the St. Landry Transition School.
According to The Acadiana Advocate, the board agreed to pay plaintiffs’ attorney Marion Overton White $800,000 for legal fees in the case.

Vail convicted in 54-year-old case
Felix Vail, 76, was found guilty of killing Mary Horton Vail 54 years ago in trail in Lake Charles.
Vail received a life sentence.
The jury deliberated less than hour to find Vail had killed his wife in 1962.
A coroner ruled the wife, of Eunice, had accidentally drowned.
Vail had told authorities the wife fell from a boat and drowned while they were trotline fishing on the Calcasieu River.
Vail, who is suspected of being a serial killer, had left a trail of dead women in his life.

Federal desegregation lawsuit against St. Landry Parish schools dismissed
A desegregation lawsuit filed in May 1965 against the St. Landry Parish School Board was dismissed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty.
Superintendent Edward Brown announced the end of the suit, Marilyn Marie Monteilh, et al, vs the St. Landry Parish School Board, at Thursday’s School Board meeting in Opelousas.
After the meeting, Courtney Joiner, School Board legal counsel, said, “It means they are not under the oversight of the federal courts. They are free to make decisions in accordance with state law.”
Mary Ellen Donatto, a Eunice School Board member, said the Board now is prohibited from taking any actions or making any policies that take race into consideration.
Removal of the order is going to bring change to the school system. Federal court directives included allowing majority to minority student transfers.
“It is going to impact us in all honesty because we were being held to certain things that we are no longer being held to,” he said.
“We could have lawsuits against us if we forced ourselves to remain under those orders,” she said.
Another Eunice Board member, Albert Hayes Jr., said, “Achieving unitary status is a goal that has been sought for the 50 years we’ve been under the desegregation order. It is my hope that going forward our system will be unitary and there will be no need to revisit the type of litigation that was necessary 50 years ago.”
Hayes said he is not sure it is time to celebrate the lifting of the desegregation order.
“For many years there has been a race basis for administrators in the whole parish,” he said. “So, now the system is free to choose the best person for the job regardless of race, sex, whatever.”
In 2011, Federal Judge Tucker Melancon outlined a five-year plan to end the desegregation case on July 1.
The School Board filed a motion on Aug. 5 asking the court to end its jurisdiction over the school district. There was no opposition to the Board’s request.
The school district has taken several actions resulting from the federal oversight.
The 2011 settlement included:
Creating a Magnet Academy of Biomedical Sciences at Opelousas High School;
Enforcement of attendance zones;
Encourage minority applicants to apply for employment;
Encourage desegregated student participation in the gifted and talented programs;
Offer the majority to minority transfers; and
Continue to operate the St. Landry Transition School.
According to The Acadiana Advocate, the board agreed to pay plaintiffs’ attorney Marion Overton White $800,000 for legal fees in the case.
In other business, the School Board awarded Fruge Lumber Co., of Eunice, a contract to build eight new classrooms at Leonville Elementary. Fruge had the low bid of $1,327,900. Improvements to Leonville Elementary are part of settling the desegregation lawsuit.

Suspects in Eunice killing returned
The man and woman linked to the death of Akeem Ceaser, 22, of Eunice, were returned to the Eunice City Jail March 15 from San Angelo, Texas, Eunice, Police Chief Randy Fontenot said.
Phillip Lafleur, 22, and Candice Vidrine, 21, both of Eunice, were identified Feb. 19 as suspects in Ceasar’s death, which has been ruled a homicide by the coroner.
Vidrine, of the 900 block of North CC Duson Street, Eunice, was charged with accessory after the fact to second-degree murder and obstruction of justice.
Lafleur, of the 300 block of North 12th Street, Eunice, was charged with simple burglary, theft of a firearm, simple criminal damage to property and second-degree murder.
In Texas, Vidrine was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Lafleur was charged with evading in a motor vehicle, felon in possession of a firearm, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as well as outstanding warrants.
Lafleur was indicted in May for second-degree murder and Vidrine for accessory after the fact to the second-degree murder of Ceasar,
Ceaser’s body was found Feb. 1 in a wooded area north of East Magnolia Avenue. He had last been seen Dec. 24.
Lafleur and Vidrine have trial dates this year.

Former sheriff’s PIO wins
congressional seat
Former St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Higgins won a commanding victory over PSC Commissioner Scott Angelle in the 3rd Congressional District in the Dec. 10 election.
Higgins won 56 percent of the vote with a total of 77,670 votes to Angelle’s 60,760.
Higgins won fame with his Crime Stopper performances, which eventually gained him recognition as the “Cajun John Wayne.”
In February, Higgins quit his job at the St. Landry Sheriff’s Office in a disagreement with Sheriff Bobby Guidroz over the tone of the Crime Stoppers performances.
Higgins announced his resignation as the office’s public information officer and St. Landry Parish Crime Stoppers spokesman, a job he has held for almost 16 months on the St. Landry Parish courthouse steps.
The resignation opened up an exchange between Higgins and the Guidroz.
Guidroz said, in a news release, “The public needs to remember the department public information officer is a spokesperson for the sheriff and represents the sheriff’s words, thoughts and message. If Clay Higgins cannot agree with my words, thoughts and message, then he is correct in resigning his position.”
The sheriff said Higgins had resigned his position with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff Department because according to Higgins, “He disagreed with my orders.”

LSUE fall
enrollment rose
Enrollment is up 15.9 percent for the fall semester at Louisiana State University Eunice over the fall of 2015, according to final regular fall semester enrollment figures released by the university’s registrar’s office in September.
Enrollment is at 2,906 students.
LSU Eunice Chancellor Kimberly Russell said the university had one of the largest freshman classes in its history.
LSUE’s freshman class increased by 21.7 percent over fall 2015 and is the largest freshman class in five years. LSU Eunice’s largest freshman class was 2,236 in 2010.

St. Landry Parish gets a new school superintendent
Opelousas native Patrick Jenkins was selected as school superintendent by the St. Landry Parish School Board on a 7-6 vote on Oct. 5.
Jenkins, 48, won the job from a field of 10 candidates. Five candidates were interviewed in a first round on Sept. 21.
The final three candidates, Jenkins, Dr. James Gray and Francis Touchet Jr., made their final pitches to the board on Oct. 5.
Jenkins has a bachelor science degree in secondary mathematics education and master of education degree in administration and supervision from Southern University.
He began his education career as a mathematics and science teacher at Hines Middle School in Newport News, Virginia. He also taught at East Baton Rouge Parish and West Feliciana parish schools. In 2006, he became principal at Zachary Elementary. In 2012, he became director of operations for the Zachary Community School District. Most recently, he was principal of Copper Mill Elementary in the Zachary district.
In addition to his education career, Jenkins served 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard. He retired with the rank of major.

Parish finances end year in trouble
St. Landry Parish Government ended the year with a deficit of about $700,000.
Up to 17 parish workers face losing their jobs.
However, the 2016 ending balance is budgeted at $1,1 million in the General Fund.
A former accountant at LSUE, Amanda Cain, was hired to guide St. Landry Parish Government through its fiscal crisis. Cain’s hiring was announced by Parish President Bill Fontenot at an Administrative-Finance Committee meeting.
Fontenot cited a reduction in severance tax revenues, increased mandated expenses, increased employee benefits and capital expenditures for the deficit.

Liberty Theater closed for repairs
The Rendez-vous des Cajuns show at the Liberty Theater was closed in May until water damage could be repaired, Eunice Mayor Scott Fontenot said.
“It is not something that just happened overnight. This has been something, I guess, progressed over the years,” he said.
The south side of the theater has been subject to moisture problems due to poor drainage, he said.
“Lance Hatten, superintendent of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, said, “The Liberty Theater was built in the 1920s, and as we all know, historic buildings take a lot of love and a lot of work to keep them in good condition.”
The city owns the theater and the park service owns the annex adjacent to the theater, he said. The facilities are operated under an agreement between the city and the park service.
Renovations to stop the mold problem cost about $70,000.
Removing the black mold cost $68,500, Fontenot said. The National Parks Service is paying $8,500 to address the mold issue in the annex to the theater.
The mayor wants to do other renovations, which could bring the total up to $100,000.

Federal deseg lawsuit against St. Landry Parish schools dismissed
A desegregation lawsuit filed in May 1965 against the St. Landry Parish School Board was dismissed Aug. 30 by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty.
Superintendent Edward Brown announced the end of the suit, Marilyn Marie Monteilh, et al, vs the St. Landry Parish School Board, at the Sept. 1 School Board meeting in Opelousas.
The end of the order allows the school system to make its own decisions in accordance with state law.
Removal of the order is going to bring change to the school system. Federal court directives included allowing majority to minority student transfers.
Another Eunice Board member, Albert Hayes Jr., said, “Achieving unitary status is a goal that has been sought for the 50 years we’ve been under the desegregation order. It is my hope that going forward our system will be unitary and there will be no need to revisit the type of litigation that was necessary 50 years ago.”
In 2011, Federal Judge Tucker Melancon outlined a five-year plan to end the desegregation case on July 1.
The school district has taken several actions resulting from the federal oversight.
The 2011 settlement included:
Creating a Magnet Academy of Biomedical Sciences at Opelousas High School;
Enforcement of attendance zones;
Encourage minority applicants to apply for employment;
Encourage desegregated student participation in the gifted and talented programs;
Offer the majority to minority transfers; and
Continue to operate the St. Landry Transition School.
According to The Acadiana Advocate, the board agreed to pay plaintiffs’ attorney Marion Overton White $800,000 for legal fees in the case.

Vail convicted in 54-year-old case
Felix Vail, 76, was found guilty of killing Mary Horton Vail 54 years ago in trail in Lake Charles.
Vail received a life sentence.
The jury deliberated less than hour to find Vail had killed his wife in 1962.
A coroner ruled the wife, of Eunice, had accidentally drowned.
Vail had told authorities the wife fell from a boat and drowned while they were trotline fishing on the Calcasieu River.
Vail, who is suspected of being a serial killer, had left a trail of dead women in his life.

Eunice Today

465 Aymond St.
Eunice, LA 70535
Phone: 337-457-3061
Fax: 337-457-3122