LAFAYETTE — They’ve endured 30-plus years of dealing with criminals, drunks, drug heads, tragedies, late-night duty shifts and the coffee to keep it all going. During those decades they’ve also forged bonds with colleagues and with the public they’ve protected.
Majs. Randy Vincent and Terry Head, who lead up two of the Lafayette Police Department’s three divisions, are saying goodbye, turning in their badges after decades of working society’s edges.
Both are relatively young and in good shape, and they’re going out with a smile.
“After Christmas Eve, I’m adios,” said Head, the 60-year-old commander of the patrol division and a 34-year veteran with Lafayette police.
Vincent, a 33-year veteran in charge of the detectives division, will stay until Jan. 4. He said he hasn’t thought much about life as a retired man at age 55.
“I’m going to leave my options open,” Vincent said. “My first grandbaby is on the way.”
Head has thought about it, drawing loose but thought-out plans for the first year and beyond. He and his wife plan to fix up their home in Scott and sell it, and build a home on now-forested land north of Lafayette.
Then, after all the honey-dos are done, he’ll look into starting a business he can run himself. “I’m too young to just sit down. And you can’t fish every day.”
Both men have plenty of stories, funny and tragic. Both have vivid recollections of coming upon their first fatality.
For Head, it was in 1980 and within a week of when he started to patrol alone. A woman driving at Moss and Mudd streets was “T-boned” by another car on her passenger side.
“Back then nobody wore seat belts,” Head said, “and it threw her across the car. She broke her neck on the passenger-side door. Her head was hung at a perfect 90-degree angle.”
He said it’s a very humbling, and eye-opening experience “when you get there and watch somebody take their last breath and there’s nothing you can do.”
Head also recalled the first time he had the wrenching task of informing a family that a loved one had been killed.
“It was a middle-aged couple and their daughter had been killed in Texas,” Head said.
The woman was traveling to Lafayette with her husband to tell her parents she was pregnant. But an accident on a Texas highway took her life.
Vincent, too, remembers his first fatality. It was 1981 and along a then-two-laned Kaliste Saloom Road that had big ditches on both sides. A female pedestrian had been hit and police couldn’t find her, until Vincent located the body in the ditch.
He remembers the first homicide he worked as a detective. A drunk man walking on St. Antoine Street was found on a Thursday beaten to death.
Three days later, Vincent and other detectives arrested four men in the case.
“They tried to rob him, and they beat him with a crow bar,” Vincent said.
Both men also agree on the biggest case to hit Lafayette during their tenure: the murder of Michaela “Mickey” Shunick and the hunt for her killer, Brandon Lavergne, who is serving two life sentences in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
The case drew worldwide attention. Hundreds of people joined he search for the missing 22-year-old University of Louisiana at Lafayette student.
After Shunick disappeared in May 2012 and the days stretched into doubt that she’d be found alive, investigators drew up a profile of a killer who was a serial offender.
“We knew we were chasing one homicide, and the feelings were we knew there’s more out there,” Head said. “We just need to get to this guy, take him down and find out where the rest of the bodies are.”
After Lavergne was captured, he confessed to Shunick’s murder and also to the murder of Lisa Pate in 1999.
Vincent said he and his detectives also believed there would be more victims linked to Lavergne. So far that has not happened.
“In this particular case, we felt we would have,” Vincent said. “But nothing has surfaced that connects him.”
Replacing Head as commander of the patrol division will be Capt. Ted Vincent, who is Randy Vincent’s younger brother. Randy Vincent’s desk will be occupied by Capt. Ned Fowler. Ted Vincent and Fowler will become majors.
Police Chief Jim Craft said Head is known for his talent in running a large department, arresting drunken drivers and for his work on a police motorcycle.
Craft said Vincent turned heads early in his career as a detective, racking up some of the highest major-crime clearance rates in the department.
Maj. Ned Ewing heads up the department’s third division, the Special Services Division. Ewing has put off retirement until 2015.