Family of Gonzales man questions drowning account

The family of a Gonzales man who drowned Tuesday night while fleeing police is questioning the account officers gave of the events leading to his death.

Gonzales police reported Tuesday night that Jerrick Lane, 25, 8544 S. St. Landry Ave., Lot 49, drowned after he jumped into Bayou Francois while fleeing police.

The officers responded shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday to reports that Lane, armed with a gun, had assaulted a woman he knew at a home on South Abe Avenue.

An attorney working for the family, Peter John, was examining the scene of Lane’s drowning Wednesday with Lane’s mother and neighbors looking on.

At John’s request, a man walked down a steep bank and stepped into Bayou Francois late Wednesday afternoon with a long measuring stick.

The man, who declined to provide his name, walked, swam, then walked from the south side of the Ascension Parish bayou to the north — hitting a deep spot midway that appeared to reach his chin or slightly deeper.

He then walked and swam back again to the south side to a shallow spot where residents say Lane’s body was pulled out of the water late Tuesday.

John said he was having the bayou’s depths measured because the family doesn’t trust the version of the events related by police. The incident is also the subject of a Gonzales police administrative investigation, police said Wednesday.

“It raises a lot questions for us, so we don’t have accusations that we can make,” John said.

South Abe Avenue, where the assault on the woman was alleged to have taken place, is a short, narrow road of homes off West Worthey Road that dead-ends at Bayou Francois.

Detective Sgt. Steven Nethken said Lane ran down the street as the first officer arrived in his patrol car and was in the water, having trouble staying afloat by the time the officer reached the bank.

“He (Lane) showed signs of distress like he could not swim, and one of the officers stripped off his gear and tried to get him, but before the officer could get completely undressed, at that particular point, (Lane) went under,” Nethken said.

Once in the water, the officer could not find Lane, though Gonzales Fire and Rescue found Lane’s body later a short distance downstream from where he went in.

Lane had been arrested previously on counts of resisting and flight from an officer, Nethken said, and was wanted on outstanding warrants.

John said Lane was known to be a good swimmer who frequently swam in Bayou Francois, a major drainage tributary for the Gonzales area, and his family wonders how he could have drowned absent other factors.

John said he has found a witness who saw an officer walking away from the bayou Tuesday night with a stun gun in his hand.

John said he received an account from a witness that the cords attached to the prongs that deliver an electric shock were deployed from the device.

John stopped short of claiming Lane was shot with a stun gun. The witness did not see the weapon fired, John said.

Nethken, however, said he can prove Lane was not shot with a stun gun.

He said an inventory of the devices carried by officers who responded to the scene found none had been fired.

The depth measurements John had taken Wednesday were between 3½ feet and 5½ feet, he said.

“That’s not enough depth,” John said.

John said the man who took the measurements, who was 5 feet 10 inches tall, lost his footing in one part of the bayou but quickly regained it.

“If I jumped out there and lost my footing, I would be able to regain my footing within two steps,” John said.

Gonzales police say the conditions in Bayou Francois were much different Tuesday night than they were on Wednesday afternoon.

Nethken said water levels were up and near the top of the banks Tuesday night after heavy rains the past few days but have dropped markedly since then.

East Ascension Drainage Director Bill Roux said a 6-foot tall man could stand in Bayou Francois when it is at normal levels but that same man could be two feet to four feet underwater when the bayou is as full as it was earlier this week.

The bayou is drained mechanically by parish government’s massive Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station several miles away in the McElroy Swamp.

Lane’s mother, Sharon Lane, 46, said she believes her son was shot with a stun gun and does not believe the account provided by police.

Nethken said the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office plans to conduct an autopsy of Jerrick Lane at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Nethken said the autopsy should determine Lane’s cause of death and find any evidence if his skin was pierced with the prongs of a stun gun.