The Top 10 Ascension Parish stories of 2010

Wade McIntyre
Erica Miller, left, with Tri-State Bird Rescue Services, feeds electrolytes Saturday afternoon to the first bird rescued after the BP Petroleum Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The bird rescue operations were headquartered at an old Civil War Fort, Fort Jackson, located near Venice, La. at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Birds that are rescued in time from the oil slick will take about ten days to recover.

THE BP OIL SPILL

One story dwarfed all others in Ascension Parish in 2010, just as it eclipsed other news stories across the nation.

A fire and explosion at the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico 41 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, claimed 11 lives, including that of St. Amant man, Blair Manuel, 57.

Early reports claimed that as much as 1,000 barrels of crude oil began leaking daily after the explosion. That turned out to be a minuscule amount of the daily total in what has become the worst environmental disaster in American history.

By May 14, the first heavy oil from the rig accident appeared in Louisiana marshlands. By the time the well was capped in mid-July, U.S. government estimates show 4.9 million barrels had leaked into the Gulf.

The oil impacted tourism in gulf coast states, cost jobs, and severely impacted the seafood and fishing industries.

The Obama Administration also placed a six-month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf, negatively effecting business in the affected states.

Ascension Parish was a financial benefactor from the spill when BP signed a monthly $315,000 lease to store used in the Gulf oil spill cleanup equipment at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

CHARTER AMENDMENTS DEFEATED

Parish voters in May denied approval of all 28 amendments to the Home Rule Charter for parish government. Any changes approved would have been the first since 1993.

Some of the changes simply updated employee titles or offered simple clarification of wording, but the 4. 5 percent of registered voters who turned out would have nothing to do with the administration touted charter changes.

A lot of money was spent on the election, Parish President Tommy Martinez said he felt sorry for the all-volunteer Home Rule Charter Commission that determined the proposed changes.

SORRENTO MAYOR RESIGNS

After conducting an entire Sorrento council meeting in October, Mayor Blake LeBlanc abruptly resigned from his position.

“I’m putting the good people of this town on notice,” he read from a letter prepared for the council. Sorrento, I believe you have a liberal council, and I believe that this council will appropriate funds like sands through an hourglass, eventually exhausting the town’s treasury--as mayor I will not be a part of a governing body that has failed their town so miserably.”

Earlier in the year, Councilman John Braud resigned his position on May 18, also reciting from a letter he presented to the mayor and council. While Braud read his letter, Police Chief Earl Theriot, with whom Braud  had battled over access to police department phone records, left the council chambers.

BANDIDOS GANG MEMBERS INDICTED

In April four members of the Bandidos motorcycle club were indicted by a parish jury for the Feb. 24 shooting and beating of an ex-Bandido and the beating of another man at Fred’s Bar on Hwy. 42.

Deputies had responded to a shooting in the early morning hours at the bar, and discovered a Steven Hoff, 31, of Denham Springs shot multiple times at the bar. Investigators were told Hoff had been “kicked out” of the Bandidos motorcycle gang.

After four members of the gang arrived at the bar and a verbal altercation ensued with Hoff, Hoff reportedly phoned a friend not in the gang and asked him to come to the bar.

The friend, Brian McDonald, 39, of Prairieville, reportedly arrived and pulled a weapon when the gang members began beating Hoff. McDonald was later treated for non-life-threatening wounds.

The Bandidos each received nine-count indictments, which included attempted   second-degree murder,  and attempted second-degree murder for the promotion, furtherance, or assistance of a criminal gang.

MASTER PLAN FIZZLES

The proposed Ascension Parish Comprehensive Plan, put together at a cost of more than $350.000, and promoted as a means of leading the parish out its growth woes of the past decade, was scrapped by a joint Planning and Zoning Commission in September.

The vote followed 11 public meetings around the parish where input and questions from residents were encouraged. But the meetings mushroomed into organized public opposition to the Master Plan from every corner of the parish, except Donaldsonville.

While parish planners said the plan was strictly a regional issue, the plan turned out to be highly personal for area residents, who turned out by the hundreds in Darrow, Prairieville, Pelican Point, St. Amant and other sites.

During the course of the meetings, members of the public monopolized what were supposed to be question and answer sessions with planners, critisizing the plan and making fun of those in charge of the meetings.

In November, citizens also pressured the parish council to replace three members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, including Commission Chairman Alan Krouse.

A standing room only crowd of citizens took part in that raucous meeting which saw a disabled war veteran escorted from the council chambers for failing to abide by rules of order that were circulated by the council prior to the meeting.

MURPHY PAINTER RESIGNS FROM ATC

Ascension Parish resident Murphy Painter, the commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, became the focus of an investigation by State Police and the Louisiana Office of State Inspector General in August.

Murphy was accused of abusing the power of his office to perform illegal background checks, and he faced sexual harassment lawsuits.

He resigned his position during the same month. State Sen. Troy Hebert was named his replacement in November.

In a tearful television interview, Painter denied he had done anything criminally wrong, and would fight to clear his name.

CORNETT MAKES HISTORY

After winning the World Championship Jambalaya Cook award in Gonzales Memorial Day Weekend, Joey Cornett went down the road to Sorrento in October and captured the Boucherie Festival Cracklin contest championship.

He’s the first person to ever win both awards in the same year.

“I don’t believe it,” the double champ said after winning the cracklin award. “It’s been a good year.”

ASCENSION COLLEGE CLOSES

A group of dismayed and angry Ascension College students gathered around the facility located at 320 E. Ascension St.  in Gonzales in August.

Their school, a fixture in the city since its licensing by the State Department of Education in June 1989, closed suddenly, without notice on July 31.

Some students learned about the closure on their way to class. Other students received a letter from the college dated July 30 which said the school was no longer eligible for federal student aid, and could not longer operate without it.

Days after the sudden closure of the college, a former employee of the school was charged on a count of felony theft of over $500. Gonzales police alleged that she stole an aggregate amount of over $7,600 in cash payments made to her by students attending the college.

LAMAR-DIXON PAID IN FULL

In November, Ascension Parish government made the final payment concluding the purchase of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

With the last $681,000 payment, the parish now owns the 247-acre facility. The purchase price of $7.5 million is a fraction of its true value estimated at more than $50 million.

The payment was made just after the first year of a four-year plan to buy the facility. It coincided roughly with the biggest event of the year at Lamar-Dixon, the Festival of Festivals.

None of the money used for the purchase came from parish funding, as voters earlier rejected a property tax proposition to fund the purchase.

Recovery money from the federal government for hurricanes Gustav and Ike make up more than $4.5 million of the purchase, and the state chipped in with $2 million in state appropriations.

GONZALES BOATERS PERISH

In late May, authorities recovered the bodies of three victims following a boating accident on Lake Maurepas in which five persons from Gonzales were involved.

The five boaters were headed toward Blind River around 2:20 p.m. from the lake when they decided to stop for a swim about two miles out from the river.

As the first four boaters got into the water, the boat was idling. Then something happened to the throttle and the fifth person was thrown in the water.

The boat began circling the swimmers, hitting three of them. After about 40 minutes of circling, another boat appeared on the scene and the boat involved in the accident began to run out of gas.

Miranda Guillot of Holden, a student at Ascension College in Gonzales, expresses concern over receiving her certification at the school after its sudden closure over the weekend.