Shared from the 12/31/2019 American Press eEdition


A look back at the news stories that generated the most interest during the past year


2. President Trump visits twice,


3. The Kevin Daigle trial,


4. McNeese football program prevented from playoff play


A few of the year’s top stories: 1. Task force releases proposal for I-10 bridge,


8. A task force proposed the Interstate 10 bridge be replaced.

Photos Rick Hickman / American Press Archives and Special to the American Press

Trump visits area

twice in 2019

President Donald Trump made not one, but two visits to Southwest Louisiana in 2019.

Trump’s first visit in May included a stop at Sempra Energy’s $10 billion Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry. His second stop at the Lake Charles Civic Center was one day shy of the Oct. 12 statewide primary election.

While in Hackberry, the president mentioned the Cameron LNG facility and similar projects helping the U.S. become less reliant on foreign energy sources.

Cameron LNG will produce up to 15 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually. Train 1 has already begun commercial operations, while officials announced in late December that the second train has started producing LNG.

Trump also made a bold announcement, promising the crowd a new Interstate 10 bridge, if re-elected. The statement brought the crowd to its feet.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that popular,” Trump said after the crowd’s reaction. “We’re going to start planning and developing right away and we’ll have it all set to go, day one, right after the election.”

Trump’s October visit to Lake Charles was a lastminute attempt to get voters to support the two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. Both ran against incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who was re-elected.

Trump spoke to nearly 7,500 people at the Civic Center, with many wearing hats and T-shirts that read “Keep America Great” and “Trump 2020.” He described Edwards as “a liberal Democrat” and called on GOP voters to prevent Edwards from getting 50 percent of the vote in the primary. The primary race ended with Rispone facing Edwards in the November runoff.

Earlier in the day, Edwards visited Lake Charles and called Trump’s appearance a last-ditch effort to push for Abraham and Rispone.

After the primary election, Trump visited Monroe on Nov. 6, followed by a stop in Bossier City Nov. 14. Both stops were focused on getting voters to support Rispone in the runoff.

Trump’s efforts proved unsuccessful as Edwards narrowly beat Rispone in the Nov. 16 runoff.

Kevin Daigle

murder trial

By Lisa Addison

Southwest Louisiana’s second-biggest story of the year was the week-long capital murder trial of Kevin Daigle, who was found guilty of firstdegree murder in July in the fatal shooting of Louisiana State Trooper Steven Vincent.

A unanimous jury voted for the death penalty and Daigle was set to be sentenced in October. He sentencing has since been delayed.

Vincent, a 13-year veteran of the Louisiana State Police force, was 44 when he died Aug. 24, 2015, after responding to a call of a vehicle in a ditch near Hayes the day before. During the call, he encountered Daigle who shot him while Vincent tried to render aid.

It took four years for Daigle, 57, to be brought to trial and there were many delays, a recusal of a judge, and two change of venues before the trial eventually got under way.

The trial of Daigle took place in 15th District Judicial Court in Lafayette after a full change of venue was granted in 2018 by Judge Clayton Davis.

Daigle’s defense team had continually pushed for the full change of venue for trial, saying the team did not feel Daigle would have received a fair trial in Calcasieu Parish because residents of this area were emotionally invested in the loss of Vincent.

Davis had previously granted a motion by the defense to limit law enforcement presence in the courtroom during Daigle’s trial. Additionally, some evidence in the case remained under seal.

The prosecution team was composed of Lea Hall, Jacob Johnson and Charles Robinson of the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s office. The defense team was made up of Kyla Romanach, Bruce E. Unangst and Caitlin Graham.

Shortly after the verdict, Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier called the killing of Vincent “stonecold first-degree murder. It was an unspeakable crime — the type of crime we will not tolerate.”

Hall said, “Justice was required in this case, and justice was served. This was an ambush killing of a police officer.”

The defense had asked the jury to return a lesser verdict, saying there wasn’t enough mercy in the world.

Hall disagreed, and said, “It isn’t mercy that’s lacking in this world; it’s justice that’s lacking. I ask you to come back with the correct verdict. Remember Steven Vincent and the kindness he extended to a stranger on the side of the road. Deliver justice today for Steven’s family and for our entire community. Find Kevin Daigle guilty as charged with first-degree murder.”

The top local stories, ranked in order of importance from one to 10 by the American Press news team:
1. President Trump visits
2. Kevin Daigle trial
3. McNeese football postseason ban
4. Newborn abandoned in hospital parking lot
5. Port Wonder/Crying Eagle announcements
6. Isle of Capri land-based casino
7. DeRosier gift card issues
8. Task force proposal for I-10 bridge
9. Diocese releases list of abusers
10. (Tie) Jason Reeves
10. (Tie) Ricky Langley appeals

The jury delivered its verdict less than 15 minutes after deliberations had begun.

Family and friends of Vincent, including his wife, Katherine, packed the courtroom every day of the trial. Several state troopers who both worked with him and were close friends, testified at trial.

Vincent’s family called him a loving father and husband, a great son, brother and friend to all, a proud state trooper, a combat veteran, a person who was always setting goals, a runner, and a true family man.

Steven, Katherine, and their son, Ethan, had what Katherine described as a “happy little life.” Just 9 when his father died, she said Ethan was “the light of our lives.”

Katherine said she clings to the last sweet moment she and her late husband shared together just hours before she lost him.

“On that morning, I was home getting ready for Mass and Steven came home (from work) for a few minutes just to say ‘hi’ and give me a kiss,” she said. “Those were the kinds of things he did on a regular basis. That’s just the kind of person he was.”

She said she visits the grave of her husband every single day.

McNeese football

postseason ban

By David Berry

On the heels of a 7-5 debut season, McNeese football head coach Sterlin Gilbert had to be looking forward to the possibility of improving on that record and taking the Cowboys to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2020.

But on Dec. 17, that dream died as McNeese State University president Daryl Burckel and the Cowboy athletic department announced the football team will be ineligible for postseason play during the 2020 season due to low Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores over a four-year period.

In order to remain eligible for postseason play, collegiate athletic programs have to maintain an APR of at least 930 over the four-year period. The four-year timespan that got McNeese in trouble started in the 2015-16 academic year and finished in the 2018-19 year. The APR scores over the last four years were 942, 948, 892 and 892 respectively, which averaged out to 918.5 over the four-year stretch.

Former McNeese head coach and current UL-Monroe head coach Matt Viator was the Cowboys’ head coach in 2015 before leaving to take the same gig in Monroe. After that, current Southeastern Louisiana defensive coordinator Lance Guidry was named the McNeese head coach, where he served in that capacity 2016-18, when he was let go after his contract was not renewed.

“Since 2003, McNeese has had compliance in APR all the way through,” Burckel said during the news conference. “This is the aberration right here. This is an aberration. Coach Gilbert and his staff are committed to this. You’re going to see it turn around. We’re disappointed that our young men next year won’t have the opportunity for postseason.”

The postseason ban means that McNeese football will see its streak of years without postseason play increase to five without ever having played a down of football to determine whether they are deserving of the playoffs. Another consequence of the postseason ban is that any McNeese football player with a year of eligibility remaining can transfer and apply for the waiver that allows them to play right away; normally, transfers have to sit out for a season unless there are certain circumstances. Also, any players who have a year left of eligibility and have already graduated from McNeese can transfer elsewhere and immediately be eligible to play.

“It’s very unfortunate that wasn’t taken care of prior to my arrival at McNeese, a place that prides itself on tradition,” Gilbert said. “But, I’m here now and I’ve fixed it and I’m going to make McNeese proud of what we’re doing and the product I put on the field. Not only athletically but academically as well. That’s from now until as long as I’m at McNeese.”

Although not eligible for 2020 postseason play, McNeese could be eligible in future years if they show improvement in APR scores and a plan to maintain those higher scores when they appeal.

Newborn found outside hospital

By Pamela Sleezer

The story of a newborn baby girl found abandoned in an area parking lot has ranked fourth highest in the top 10 stories of the year for 2019.

The baby was found just after 8 p.m. on the evening of Feb. 12, laying in a grassy area near the front of Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women on Gauthier Road.

A woman exiting the hospital told authorities that she heard a baby crying as she was preparing to get into her vehicle, and that she followed the cries to the baby’s location. Investigators believe the baby had been in the spot for about 15 minutes before being discovered naked, and without any blanket or covering.

The child was immediately admitted to the hospital for examination by medical staff. Despite her abandoned condition, she was found to be in good health. She was described as African American and full-term, and a search began to find her mother.

According to Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso, a Safe Haven law in Louisiana would have allowed the mother to give up the infant at the hospital without fear of being arrested or charged, but the law requires the child be placed in the immediate presence of an employee.

Mancuso told the American Press’ Lisa Addison that in this case, the mother’s intentions may have been appropriate in the beginning, but that she did not follow through.

“This would have been very simple last night; 50 yards more and hand the baby off,” Mancuso stated.

The baby was determined to be in good health, and was discharged from the hospital a short time later and placed in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services where a family was found to take care of her. Detectives say she has been doing well since being found.

The search for her mother, however, still continues.

Surveillance footage from the hospital identified a vehicle of interest in the case, and detectives issued an alert for a white four-door car, but no other clues were found. She is now facing child abandonment charges.

Port Wonder /

Crying Eagle announcements

By John Guidroz

Two major projects that are designed to give new life to the Lake Charles lakefront are expected to start construction next year, officials said.

Major construction on the $20 million Port Wonder facility is expected to start in the second quarter of 2020 and take 15-16 months, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said. The site — located between Cypress Alligator Pond and the former Harrah’s Casino parking garage — will house the Children’s Museum of Lake Charles and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Science Center and Educational Complex.

Meanwhile, the proposed Crying Eagle lakefront restaurant and microbrewery could start construction by the middle of 2020 and take a year to finish, according to Crying Eagle President Eric Avery.

The lakefront area has lacked a major attraction since Harrah’s Casino suffered major damage from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Hunter said both upcoming projects will be major boosters for the lakefront.

“We are creating an arts, culture and entertainment epicenter for our city,” he said. “This is not the end for lakefront development; this is the beginning.”

The City Council in August approved for Port Wonder LLC, a subsidiary of a Baton Rouge company, to build the Port Wonder facility.

Hunter said the property’s base flood elevation has to first be raised to meet FEMA standards. Once elevated, the property has to set for roughly four to six months, he said. A groundbreaking on Port Wonder will take place “in the coming months,” Hunter said.

The Crying Eagle project was announced during a news conference in late October. It will feature a rooftop bar, open courtyard and covered patio.

The project came about after the City Council approved advertisements of requests for proposals for a lakefront restaurant. CSRS, a city consultant, reviewed Crying Eagle’s proposal and recommended it be accepted.

Avery said the current brewery on East McNeese Street was initially planned for the lakefront. However, that idea was scrapped. Once the restaurant opens, the McNeese Street location will continue to handle the bulk of production and distribution, Avery said.

The City Council in December approved a cooperative endeavor agreement with Crying Eagle for the proposed project. Under the agreement, Hunter can enter into a lease, rights of use, servitudes and development agreements, along with other needed agreements.

Along with the two projects, Hunter said there are plans to refurbish the old Harrah’s parking garage, an estimated $2 million project.

Hunter said the project is in the design phase, and the structure is “solid concrete” and in good shape.

Isle of Capri

land-based casino

By John Guidroz

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board this month gave the go-ahead for Eldorado Resorts to build a $112.7 million casino on land next to the Isle of Capri riverboat casino in Westlake. It’s the first approval of its kind since state lawmakers approved Act 469 in 2018, allowing riverboat casinos to relocate their gaming operations on land within 1,200 feet of the berthing facility.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, sponsored the legislation. The new land-based casino property is expected to generate 804 direct and indirect jobs, a 9 percent increase from the 735 jobs currently on the riverboat.

Jeff Favre, Isle of Capri vice president and general manager, said there will be 1,271 slots at the new facility, along with 43 tables and a new VIP lounge in the highlimit area. The riverboat has 1,154 slots and 36 tables.

Favre said seven restaurants and eight bars are planned for the property, including a Brew Brothers bar and restaurant, noodle bar, food hall and an upgraded steakhouse.

The project will bring in about 300 construction jobs, with $15 million in wages.

“I think it’s a great day for Louisiana as we move forward with this,” Johns said. “It’s a game-changer in the Lake Charles market (and) on the lake.”

Favre said the city of Westlake and Calcasieu Parish Police Jury are expected to approve building permit applications by mid-January.

He said construction could start by the end of January and wrap up in May 2021. The property will re-branded at some point, he said.

The Las Vegas-based Eldorado Resorts assumed permanent ownership of Isle of Capri Casino Hotel in December 2017.

Gift card issues at

the D.A.’s office

By John Guidroz

A controversial program where certain defendants could buy gift cards and money orders to cover up to half of their court-ordered community service drew national attention to Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier and his office.

KATC-TV broke the story Oct. 9, followed by a Nov. 1 opinion piece in the Washington Post. Judges with the 14th Judicial District Court sent a letter on Nov. 18, ordering DeRosier’s office to stop accepting gift cards and money orders in exchange for community service.

The program was criticized because of how the gift cards and money orders were documented. Two former employees of DeRosier questioned how the program was handled and where the cards were disbursed as part of the District Attorney’s Community Assistance Foundation, a 501c nonprofit formed by DeRosier in 2015.

“I don’t see how it’s accurate if there was no formal recording,” said McKenzie Newman, who worked for DeRosier’s office from 2015 until July.

The program, then known as the District Attorney’s Community Christmas Program, was started by DeRosier roughly 12 years ago, he said. Toys could be donated in exchange for community service, after which they would be donated annually to all six municipalities. Because the program grew quickly, DeRosier said he shifted into accepting gift cards that would be used to purchase Christmas toys for donation.

Jenny Odom, another former employee of DeRosier’s, notified him in the summer of 2015 that there wasn’t “appropriate record keeping,” DeRosier said. After notifying his auditor, Lester Langley, he said more than $100,000 worth of gift cards were “floating around misdemeanor probation and our pretrial diversion departments.”

DeRosier said he had records of “every penny spent” once it went into the District Attorney’s Community Assistance Foundation. However, gift cards and money orders “were simply to be gathered in an envelope, hand delivered or placed in the mailbox” of DeRosier’s secretary, according to Newman.

“It was just his choosing, taking public funds and deciding who you want those funds to go through without any other counsel or third party,” she said.

Daryl Purpera, Louisiana Legislative Auditor, said his office is “leaning toward doing an audit” of the program. However, it depends on if the program gets public funds.

DeRosier said in November that roughly $20,000 worth of gift cards remained for distribution, with most being used for Christmas toys. Once they are handed out, he said his office will be “out of the gift card business.”

The gift card program will not be used for misdemeanor probation. However, he said, it will continue as part of the pretrial diversion program, which is under DeRosier’s authority.

Task force

proposes new

I-10 bridge

By John Guidroz

Efforts to secure a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge came into focus this year, with a local task force unveiling a plan to build a new six-lane bridge in 2020.

As the year comes to an end, however, several steps still remain before construction can begin. One includes an environmental impact statement.

The new bridge proposal was introduced during a news conference in January. The task force, appointed by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana, said the bridge could cost between $400 million and $600 million. It would include pedestrian walkways, along with entrance and exit ramps at Sampson Street over the railway into Westlake.

The bridge would be funded through a P3 partnership, where a private company would cover design and construction costs. Tolls set by the company in its bid package would recoup those costs. Task force members have said local drivers could be charged cheaper tolls.

The I-10 bridge, opened in 1952, has seen traffic significantly exceed its intended use. The bridge was built to handle 37,000 vehicles crossing per day. More than 80,000 vehicles on average crossed the bridge daily in 2016.

The bridge has outlasted its 50-year lifespan by more than a dozen years. The National Registry has rated the bridge a 6.6 out of 100.

The condition of the I-10 bridge caught the attention of federal officials, including President Donald Trump. He promised a new bridge, if reelected, during a May stop in Hackberry.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, RPort Barre, told the American Press editorial board in November that Trump also made that promise to him in private conversations. Higgins added he has “complete confidence” federal funding can be secured and said a new bridge could break ground by 2021.

Gov. John Bel Edwards in August pledged $85 million in next year’s capital outlay bill to cover the state’s share of building a new bridge.

Task force members said in October they are seeking clearer answers on the funding pledges made on the state and federal levels. Keith DeRousseau, task force chairman, said they are hopeful the bridge can be funded through the traditional method, which calls for 90 percent federal funding and 10 percent state funding.

DeRousseau said tolls are seen as a last resort if the state and federal government are short on dollars.

Diocese releases

list of abusers

By Marlisa Harding

The Diocese of Lake Charles published a list of clergy this year against whom credible accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor have been made since the organization’s establishment in 1980.

The move came in response to the final day of three penance nights in April whereby the church is invited to confess its sins, the Most Rev. Glen John Provost, Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles, said.

Provost addressed the public via video recording, where he expressed compassion for the victims calling the actions of former church leaders “horrors that have no place in society and in our church.”

The Diocese opened its files and archives to an ad hoc review board comprised of a retired judge, retired sheriff and attorney who were tasked with compiling the list in an effort to ensure transparency, Provost said.

According to the records, the earliest allegations were made in 1986 and the most recent was filed in 2015.

“No one in ministry in the Diocese of Lake Charles against whom any complaint of sexual misconduct with a minor exists today,” Provost said.

Twelve priests who have served in the Diocese were accused of misconduct during their time at various Catholic churches and schools in Jennings, Kinder, Lake Charles, Vinton, Lake Arthur, Youngsville, Cankton, Port Arthur, Houston and Puerto Rico. In all cases, the priests were removed from ministry after an investigation involving civil authorities.

According to the list provided, the majority of the accused are deceased, with the remainder incarcerated or assigned a “life of prayer and penance” at an assigned location.

The Rev. Jeffrey Starkovich, Diocesan spokesperson, said such cases mean priests are forbidden from all public ministry and from otherwise presenting themselves as a priest; instead, they are “expected to dedicate (their) life to praying for victims and repenting of his past offenses.”

Death warrant

issued for Jason


By Lisa Addison

A death warrant for convicted murderer Jason Manuel Reeves was signed in June and his execution date was set for Aug. 19 until a federal judge put it on hold.

Reeves, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2004 after abducting 4-year-old Mary Jean Thigpen from Moss Bluff on Nov. 1, 2001, and then raping her before stabbing her 16 times and slicing her neck.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May denied an appeal by Reeves and that decision set things in motion for his eventual execution.

It has been nearly 20 years since Thigpen was killed and in that time Reeves has had two trials, two death warrants filed and multiple appeals.

Prosecutor Cynthia Killingsworth, after one of Reeves’ previous appeals, said she thought this case would have been over with a long time ago.

“It’s so terrible for the (Thigpen) family. It’s ridiculous that it’s been this many years and isn’t finished yet.”

Reeves’ first trial began Oct. 27, 2003, but was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to meet a unanimous verdict on the first-degree murder charge.

His second murder trial ended with jurors finding him guilty on Nov. 4, 2004. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection on Dec. 10, 2004.

Reeves has begun what is likely his last chance before execution — an appeal in the federal court system.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier said defense attorneys always file a federal appeal after all state appeals have been exhausted.

DeRosier has said he believes all relevant issues concerning Reeves’ case have already been handled by the courts.

If Reeves’ appeal is denied in federal court in Lake Charles, his case will proceed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans.

DeRosier has previously said he believes Reeves will eventually reach the end of his appeals and that it will be soon.

When that happens, another execution date would likely then be set for Reeves.

But even with an execution date, there is no guarantee Reeves would be put to death on that day. Executions in Louisiana are on hold due to issues with the state’s execution process.

Attorney General Jeff Landry has said he “stands with DeRosier in seeking to follow through on the promise our state has made to the victim’s family.”

Landry said the law does not mandate any particular drug protocol for execution. He said it simply mandates a death sentence be carried out by lethal injection.

Reeves has been on death row at Angola since 2004.

Ricky Langley

appeals to U.S.

Supreme Court

By Lisa Addison

Ricky Langley, convicted of murder in the death of a 6-year-old boy, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in September in an effort to get his conviction thrown out.

Langley killed Jeremy Guillory in 1992 and was convicted of second-degree murder at trial in 2009.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in June refused to uphold an earlier decision by a three-judge panel that could have led to Langley’s release from Angola.

At issue was whether the jury’s decision not to convict Langley of first-degree murder also meant he should be acquitted of second-degree murder.

A majority of the 5th Circuit affirmed Langley’s conviction.

“This defendant committed the most heinous, the most unspeakable act against this 6-year-old defenseless boy, and he deserves the full weight of the criminal justice system,” Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier said after receiving the court’s decision.

Attorney General Jeff Landry agreed.

“I am grateful that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed this murderous pedophile should remain behind bars,” Landry said. “My office will continue to do all we can to protect our state’s children and ensure public safety in Louisiana.”

Judge Robert Wyatt earlier ordered Langley held without bail following the first ruling by the three-judge panel, which created a scenario in which Langley could have potentially been released from Angola where he has been since shortly after being convicted of the murder in 2009.

Wyatt was also the judge at Langley’s third trial and like two juries before him had done, he rejected Langley’s insanity defense and found him guilty.

Langley said multiple times in videotaped confessions after the killing that he molested the boy, strangled him and put his body in a closet.

A convicted sex offender at the time of the boy’s death, Langley was convicted three times for the killing of Guillory on Feb. 7, 1992.

DeRosier said after the first ruling by the 5th Circuit that his office would vigorously fight to keep Langley behind bars.

He said the Langley case was one of the most serious cases he has ever had and that Langley was a “huge danger” to the public.

“We are going to use every resource this office has, as long as it takes, as much as it costs, to keep this horrible killer, this murderer, in prison for the rest of his life,” DeRosier said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not reached a decision on Langley’s latest appeal.

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