Violence and political strife were at the top and throughout the top 10 stories of 2013 in the Teche Area. And in the middle of all the discord, two prep football teams in Iberia excelled to bring their respective schools one win away from making the trip to the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Here are the top 10 stories of the year selected by the newsroom of The Daily Iberian:
10. Save Lake Peigneur files lawsuit
Atlanta-based company AGL Resources received approval in March for the first of several permits needed to begin creation of two additional salt dome caverns beneath Lake Peigneur. As a result, local organization Save Lake Peigneur Inc. joined with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network to file suit against the state Department of Natural Resources for issuing AGL a permit while, the organizations allege, ignoring environmental information.
The next hearing on the suit is in March. Meanwhile, AGL’s remaining permits are on hold.
9. Parish dysfunction
The Iberia Parish administrative revolving door continued to spin this year as department heads were fired and hired.
Human Resource director Mike Gillard was terminated at the end of June when the parish president accused him of withholding résumés. The 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has been investigating those allegations. District Attorney Phil Haney said in early November that the investigation was within a few days of wrapping up, but the office has not released any additional information since then.
Gillard was replaced by Robbie Bourque in August.
The parish had been without a Chief Administrative Officer since former CAO Joel Dugas resigned June 1, 2012, and without a Finance Director since Kimberly Segura left to work for the city of New Iberia October 2012.
In September, the Iberia Parish Council approved Thomas Burbank for the CAO position.
The parish is still rolling without a finance director, but has contracted with an accounting firm at an hourly rate.
8. Jeanerette politics
JEANERETTE — The July death of Jeanerette Mayor Timothy de’Clouet sparked a series of political changes in the city, including Alderwoman-at-large Aprill Foulcard stepping up to fill the post in the interim. Foulcard secured the seat in the October election, and was the first black woman elected mayor in the city. Jeanerette resident Tia Simmons was voted into the alderwoman-at-large post and Butch Bourgeois earned the Ward 3 alderman post.
Before de’Clouet’s death, the mayor was able to secure a tenant for the former Fruit of the Loom building which the city had been paying to maintain and oversee for nearly two years. The 10-year lease began the day de’Clouet died, which Jeanerette City Marshal Fernest Martin said was one of de’Clouet’s proudest moments as mayor.
7. Prep teams advance to semifinals
Loreauville High School and Catholic High School were District 5-2A rivals who both came within a hair of reaching the state finals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans in the first year of the playoffs split between select and non-select schools.
Both semifinal losses were 1-point defeats at home.
The CHS Panthers (9-4) lost to eventual state champion Calvary Baptist High School in the semifinals, 34-33, after three failed extra point attempts and a late interception deep in Calvary Baptist territory.
The fifth-seeded LHS Tigers played Many High School to a 20-all halftime tie before the North Louisiana team scored in the final minutes to go ahead 27-20. Loreauville tied the game, but Many blocked the extra point and recovered the team’s failed onside kick, securing the win.
6. Cajun RVera
The Iberia Parish Council has continued to approve funding for the Cajun RVera project, which was expected to be completed early 2013. Originally, $5.6 million was allocated for the project. However, with adjustments and some unexpected costs, the parish has allocated about $2 million in additional funding between loans and TIF funding, which does not have to be repaid. Funding for the project stands at about $7.4 million. Acadiana Fairgrounds Commission chairman Karl Vincent in his last update on the project said it should be complete early 2014, more than half a year later than the project’s original anticipated completion.
5. Thirteen-year-old accused of killing stepmother
A 13-year-old boy was arrested and charged in March for the stabbing death of his stepmother Lolita Bailey, 34, of New Iberia, in their Loreauville Road home. The boy, whose name has not been released because he is a juvenile, was charged with second-degree murder. Sixteenth Judicial District assistant district attorney Bo Duhe said the teenager will not be charged as an adult. He said Louisiana state law allows for consideration for minors 14 or older to be tried as adults. The district attorney’s office has not released any information about the case since the boy’s arrest.
4. City finances
The city of New Iberia continued to face financial issues as the administration struggled to balance its budget for the fiscal year ending in October. The New Iberia City Council voted to increase the city’s sewer user fee by 30 percent, increase permit and inspections fees and roll forward a millage, all in an effort to improve its finances.
The city also was forced to cut back spending in all departments, which including canceling its annual summer camp program for the first time in decades. Parks and Recreation director Tony Migues predicted the program would earn about $7,000, but New Iberia Mayor Hilda Curry said the city could not take the chance of losing money on the program, which generated a $10 profit the previous year.
Migues and Curry said the city plans to hold the camps next summer, but on a smaller scale.
3. Levees to library
A sales tax and a property tax sought by the Iberia Parish Hurricane, Levee and Conservation District were defeated in April. The two taxes would have been used to construct and maintain a 26-mile earthen levee. The district still is trying to find other sources of funding as it moves ahead with smaller projects.
Council members attempted to put an option on the spring ballot that would have transferred a portion of an unused millage rate from the Iberia Parish Library system to the levee district.
The measure met significant opposition, with library supporters thronging to public hearings on the issue. The measure was passed by the Parish Council, but vetoed by the parish president.
2. Hopkins Street riots
Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal called in reinforcements from around the state after he said riots happened on Hopkins Street the Saturday of the Sugar Cane Festival. However, after a video surfaced the following Monday showing a deputy striking a handcuffed man with a baton, some residents asserted riots were in response to law enforcement brutality. The Sheriff’s Office said it fired one deputy in relation to the incident and an FBI investigation has been ongoing to determine possible criminal charges. A lawsuit from one woman who was allegedly brutalized by deputies that night is now in federal court in Lafayette.
1. Chitimatcha Tribal Police officer fatally shot
CHARENTON — Chitimatcha Tribal Police Officer Sgt. Rick Riggenbach, 52, was shot and killed in January when responding to a call concerning an armed gunman on Flat Town Road in Charenton.
Riggenbach was the first officer on scene after residents reported seeing a man walking down Flat Town Road carrying a shotgun. He was shot on scene.
Shortly after, St. Mary Parish deputies Jason Javier, of the Morgan City area, and Matthew Strickland, of Lafourche Parish, responded and were injured by what St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert said was buckshot.
Wilbert Thibodeaux, of Charenton, was charged with first-degree murder of a police officer, two counts of attempted first degree murder, first degree murder for the fatal shooting of Charenton resident Eddie Lyons and simple arson for setting fire to Lyons’ mobile home.
Prosecutors announced Aug. 1 they will seek the death penalty against Thibodeaux, who then changed his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. The Public Defender’s Office is in the process of drafting a sanity commission, and Thibodeaux is being held in the mental health ward at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.