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Suspect named in Thanksgiving day killing in Plaquemine

Suspect Jerome Anderson Gray

Police named a suspect Friday in the killing of a Plaquemine man who was found dead Thanksgiving Day near Canal and Church streets. Police believe Jerome Anderson Gray, also known as Dusty, killed Derick Askins and that he may be in the New Orleans area, though his motive is still undetermined, a Plaquemine City Police news… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Nov. 25, 2015

The Pointe Coupee Historical Society on Sunday will present the second of four annual performances in the Pelican State Chamber Music Series. In a concert that is free and open to the public, James Alexander and the Nicholls Camerata, of Nicholls State University, will perform in the restored auditorium of the Julien Poydras Museum and Arts… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Nov. 18, 2015

Marking the 50th anniversary of Charles Schultz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the West Baton Rouge Museum is hosting an exhibit featuring the beloved “Peanuts” characters and is giving the public the opportunity to see the original film. Starting Nov. 29 and running through Jan. 3, visitors can enjoy Sunday afternoons with a cup of cocoa… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Nov. 11

Iberville Parish officials are promising “the most entertaining and impactful” Veterans Day event ever on Wednesday as the parish spends its eighth year paying tribute to the impact military service has on the families of veterans. The parish’s annual Salute to Veterans ceremony will begin at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Iberville Veterans Memorial, at… Continue reading →

Here's why Brusly Town Council reversed course, approved new beer, liquor permits for controversial store

A week after unanimously rejecting beer and liquor permits for Back Brusly Grocery, the Town Council on Monday did a turnaround by approving a new application for the store. Last week, the council rejected the convenience store’s first request because the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control had also denied the… Continue reading →

Audit: Iberville assessor possibly violated Louisiana law in connection with purchase of 2 trucks

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Iberville Parish Assessor John “Randy” Sexton shown in March 2009.

An investigative audit released Monday says Iberville Parish Assessor John “Randy” Sexton may have violated Louisiana public bid laws from the purchase of two trucks during a five-year span and could owe up to $79,000 in fines for not marking the vehicles as public. The audit, which the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office said was conducted after… Continue reading →

Federal judge okays STEM Academy for Pointe Coupee Central High

Advocate staff photo by TERRY JONES -- Pointe Coupee Central High in Morganza.

A judge has given the Pointe Coupee Parish school system the OK to transform Pointe Coupee Central High into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy. U.S. District Judge James J. Brady made his ruling late Thursday after schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine defended the STEM proposal in federal court Thursday morning. The school… Continue reading →

Lafayette man killed in Interstate 10 crash in Iberville Parish

A 50-year-old Lafayette man was killed around 4 a.m. Friday while trying to avoid an earlier crash involving two 18-wheelers along Interstate 10. Alton Ortego was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries he sustained when his 2003 Ford Escape crashed into the back of one of the 18-wheelers, Trooper 1st Class… Continue reading →

Federal judge expects to make quick decision on proposal to transform Pointe Coupee Central High

Advocate staff file photo by TERRY JONES -- Officials hope to turn Pointe Coupee Central High in Morganza into a STEM Academy

The Pointe Coupee Parish school system will have to wait just a little while longer before officials learn if their proposal to transform Pointe Coupee Central High into a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy will fly. U.S. District Judge James J. Brady said Thursday he will make a decision on the school… Continue reading →

Judge Dupont retires from 18th Judicial District seat; nephew running in special election set for March 5

Judge William Dupont

William Dupont has traded in his gavel and black robe for fishing poles and leisurely hunting trips after 11 years of serving as a judge for the 18th Judicial District. The 64-year-old Plaquemine man, a member of one of Iberville Parish’s most politically active families, retired from office on Halloween — five years before his… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Nov. 4

The St. Gabriel Health Clinic has expanded its medical services to six local charter schools. The clinic will now manage school-based health centers at Baton Rouge University Preparatory School, Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy, Baton Rouge College Preparatory, Baton Rouge Charter Academy at Mid-City and Iberville Charter Academy in Plaquemine. The… Continue reading →

Supporters cry foul after Brusly Town Council rejects liquor license for store with ties to ex-police chief

Former Brusly Police Chief Jamie Whaley

The Town Council’s unanimous decision Monday night to deny a beer and liquor license for a local store with ties to the town’s former police chief ignited a firestorm of accusations from supporters who accused city leaders of unfairly hindering the store’s owners from developing a thriving business. The council’s action comes two… Continue reading →

State regulators reject former Brusly police chief’s application to sell alcohol at convenience store

The town’s former police chief is at the center of yet another controversy after the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control rejected an application he and his girlfriend filed to sell beer and alcohol at a convenience store the couple recently purchased. ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert said Saturday his office… Continue reading →

Chad Brown gains House District 60 seat after runoff opponent withdraws from the race

Chad Brown, left, James Barker

With the withdrawal of his opponent, Plaquemine attorney Chad Brown is now the new representative for House District 60. Brown had faced James Barker, a seven-year veteran of the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, in the Nov. 21 runoff election. Barker did not return calls Friday seeking comment, but in a message posted on his campaign’s… Continue reading →

West Baton Rouge teacher, Iberville principal surprised with Milken Educator Awards — and $25,000 each

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Jessica Major, center, Port Allen Middle School's instructional coach, reacts to the announcement  that she is a recipient of the Milken Educator Award, Wednesday at the school. She's congratulated by West Baton Rouge Parish Schools speech and language pathologist Lisa Daggett, right, and flanked by, left to right, WBR School Board employee Warren LeJeune, assistant principal Kevin Moore, teacher Theresa Tucker, and substitute teacher Georgia Michalski, who taught full time at Port Allen Middle for 32 years.  Conceived by the Milken Family Foundation to attract, retain and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession, the awards come with an unrestricted $25,000 prize. Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, previous award recipients and community leaders were there recognize the exceptional work. Plaquemine High principal Chandler Smith also received the award Wednesday.

Two Louisiana educators received unexpected accolades — and a $25,000 cash prize each — when officials with the Milken Family Foundation showed up Wednesday at surprise school assemblies in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes, honoring the two with the coveted Milken Educator Awards. Jessica Major gasped and then fought back tears after her… Continue reading →

Owners of large St. Gabriel tract withdraw controversial rezoning request; mayor says the family may now seek to divide the land for more-compatible uses

A controversial request to rezone a 3,000-acre tract from residential to heavy industrial has been yanked off the table — for now. Mayor Lionel Johnson said Wednesday the family that owns the undeveloped land will work with the city on a way to use the property that would be beneficial to… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Oct. 28, 2015

The West Baton Rouge Parish Library is presenting its second annual “Lawyers in Libraries” statewide program on Thursday. Julie Baxter Payer, senior communications adviser for the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, will present “Ask-a-Lawyer Program” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the library’s conference room. The program is offered through the library’s partnership with the… Continue reading →

Pointe Coupee sheriff at odds with Police Jury over jail funding

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Pointe Coupee Sheriff Bud Torres .

Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres is threatening legal action against the Police Jury if the parish doesn’t fulfill its obligation to fund the operation of the parish jail. The sheriff said he needs to free up the more than $1 million he’s been forced to annually take from his budget to run the jail… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Oct. 21, 2015

The city of St. Gabriel is inviting the public to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sunshine Park at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The new park, 2125 Ravier Lane, is part of the 2012 Beautification Initiative, an effort by city leaders to establish and maintain recreational grounds in the Sunshine community. Sunshine Park, which took more than a… Continue reading →

Controversial St. Gabriel industrial rezoning request to be considered at Nov. 12 committee meeting

Advocate staff photo by TERRY JONES -- Pictured is the St. Gabriel property whose owners are seeking a rezoning from residential to commercial.

Any decision on the controversial request to rezone a 3,000-acre tract from residential to heavy industrial won’t be made until next month at the earliest. The request was supposed to go before the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee on Wednesday, but the committee couldn’t meet because they lacked a quorum.… Continue reading →

Industrial rezoning request in St. Gabriel could be pushed back a month after committee meeting cancelled

Advocate staff photo by TERRY JONES -- Pictured is the St. Gabriel property whose owners are seeking a rezoning from residential to commercial.

The first public meeting on a controversial rezoning request was canceled after the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee failed to establish the quorum needed to conduct the meeting Wednesday night. The cancellation means the timeline of a family’s request to have approximately 3,000 acres of undeveloped land rezoned from… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Oct. 14, 2015

Plaquemine is inviting the public to carnival fun, Cajun food and live music this weekend at its International Acadian Festival. The festivities take place at the Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park beginning at 5 p.m. Friday with a Texas Hold ’em tournament and live music. Scheduled activities taking place as the festival continues Saturday… Continue reading →

Pointe Coupee police juror disqualified from seeking fourth term; failed to pay ethics fines in full

Mitch Langlois

A Pointe Coupee Parish police juror has been disqualified from seeking a fourth term in office because he failed to disclose in qualifying papers that he owes more than $5,000 in fines to the state’s Board of Ethics. The Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously agreed Friday to uphold an appellate court’s ruling that barred John “Sassy”… Continue reading →

West Baton Rouge finds commercial development elusive; wetlands, population size seen among factors

West Baton Rouge Parish’s industrial development thrived over the years thanks in large part to its close proximity to the Mississippi River. But the kind of residential and commercial growth that exploded across the river to the east and south of Louisiana’s capital city has eluded West Baton Rouge.… Continue reading →

Iberville Parish residents question rezoning request for St. Gabriel site; concerned about possible chemical or industrial plant

For the second time this year in the Baton Rouge area, residents rose up to oppose rezoning plans because they don’t want an industrial facility or chemical plant so close to their homes. The latest controversy involves approximately 3,000 acres of undeveloped land between Nicholson Drive and River Road in St.… Continue reading →

Fugitive returned to Louisiana after being mistakenly released, then caught in Atlanta

Photo provided by La. Department of Corrections -- Benjueil Johnson, mistakenly released from state custody on Sept. 22, 2015, arrives at Louisiana State Penitentiary shortly after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.

A convicted killer accidentally released by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections ahead of serving a 40-year sentence for manslaughter was returned to Louisiana late Tuesday after being arrested last week near Atlanta. U.S. marshals arrested Benjueil Johnson, 32, shortly after midnight Oct. 2 at a Motel 6 in Norcross, Georgia, a suburb of… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Oct. 8, 2015

St. John School, Iberville Parish and the Blue Star Mothers Louisiana Chapter 1 are joining forces to collect supplies for troops overseas in conjunction with this year’s Iberville Salute to Veterans event on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Needed items will be collected by fourth- and fifth-graders from St. John Interparochial School on Veterans Day at the… Continue reading →

Rewards offered for information that leads to capture of Benjueil Johnson, accidentally released prisoner

Benjueil Johnson

Crime Stoppers and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections are both offering cash rewards for information that helps capture a 32-year-old convicted killer who was accidently released from prison just a few years into his 40-year sentence. Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde said Wednesday that her agency will pay $1,000, in addition to Crime… Continue reading →

Disqualified to run by appellate court, Pointe Coupee Police Jury candidate says he’ll appeal to state Supreme Court

A Pointe Coupee Parish police juror may be forced to give up his bid for re-election if he’s unable to get the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court ruling disqualifying him from the Oct. 24 races. John “Sassy” Pourciau has until 4:17 p.m. Wednesday to appeal the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling he… Continue reading →

After resident reports seeing convicted killer, Iberville authorities realize he was accidentally released

Benjueil Johnson

State corrections officers accidentally allowed a convicted killer to go free — and the agency’s top officials had no idea it happened until residents of Iberville Parish notified the sheriff. Officials are still searching for Benjueil Johnson, 32, who was sentenced to 40 years after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2010 fatal shooting of a… Continue reading →

Around the Westside for Sept. 30, 2015

Plaquemine Selectman Jimmie Randle is asking the public to donate time and supplies for a daylong cleanup at the Homestead, Magnolia, Laboring Sisters and Roscoe Cemeteries on Capt. T.T. Harris Avenue in Plaquemine on Oct. 3. The cleanup is in honor of Professor Wendell O. Williams, a community-spirited volunteer who spent countless hours maintaining the cemeteries.… Continue reading →

Audit raps Pointe Coupee Police Jury for failing to adjust budget deficits and lack of oversight on employees

The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury was cited in an audit released Monday for failing to make proper budget amendments in several of its funds and for incurring a deficit of more than $900,000 in the fund it uses to help operate the parish prison. The audit report, which dissected the parish’s 2014 spending,… Continue reading →

Jamie Hanks named executive director of West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce

The West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce has hired the director of legislative affairs for the state’s Division of Administration to serve as its new executive director, the organization announced Friday. Jamie A. Hanks, who once served as the communications director for former Congressman Rodney Alexander, will officially step into her new role Oct. 12, the… Continue reading →

Pointe Coupee School Board agrees to creation of STEM Academy administrator, but hiring hinges on federal court approval for use of Central High campus

Advocate staff file photo by TERRY JONES -- Officials hope to turn Pointe Coupee Central High in Morganza into a STEM Academy

The Pointe Coupee Parish School Board on Thursday took another step toward opening a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy by fall 2016 by creating a new administrative position to manage the proposed school. But, the board’s unanimous approval of the job description for the district’s new chief program… Continue reading →

Decision to appoint late mayor's wife as interim mayor divides Plaquemine along racial lines

Photo provided vy Peacock Communications -- Mayor Sue Gulotta, center, Plaquemine's new interim mayor, takes the oath of office for the position administered by city attorney Phil Canova at the Plaquemine City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Also pictured with Gulotta from left, Amy Gulotta, wife of Jeremy Gulotta; Brad Gulotta; Mary Sue Gulotta,  Jeremy Gulotta.

In a decision that divided the community along racial lines, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night appointed the widow of former mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta as the city’s interim mayor. The board’s action during a heavily attended special meeting was met with an outcry from black residents who packed… Continue reading →

Report: West Baton Rouge teens drinking, smoking at higher rate than peers in state, nation

Teens in West Baton Rouge Parish are drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco at much higher rates compared to other teenagers across the state and nation, a new report suggests. A Drug Free Communities Needs Assessment report from the parish’s Healthy Community Coalition also revealed that approximately a third of West Baton Rouge Parish high school… Continue reading →

Investigators trying to 'put my sons in the wrong,' says mother of brothers killed by St. Gabriel police chief's son

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Authorities continue to investigate Monday morning the scene of a double homicide at a trailer park late Sunday night in St. Gabriel. State Police crime scene investigators gather evidence from bullet exit holes in the back wall of a mobile home Monday morning.

Months after asking the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to take over the review of a fatal double shooting by the son of the city’s police chief, the mother of two brothers killed last May questioned whether state prosecutors are adequately handling the investigation into her sons’ deaths. “I… Continue reading →