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State Police to host Louisiana Heroin Summit today

Michelle Southern reporting.
Louisiana State Police and several other agencies will host a "Heroin Summit" today to educate the public about heroin use and address the recent rise in heroin deaths. Trooper Jared Sandifer says Col Mike Edmonson is going to be the keynote speaker and joined by several other people from around the state who know a lot about heroin.

"It's going to be a way for people to get together and brainstorm and try to determine ways we can reduce this disturbing trend of heroin related deaths and arrests in the area," said Sandifer.

The event is being held between 9am-5pm at the BREC Independence Park Theatre and the public is urged to participate. Sandifer says in Louisiana last year there were at least 310 heroin-related arrests made by LSP and law enforcement agencies across the state.

"And last year we seized 152 pounds of heroin, which is up significantly from about 21 pounds in 2012," said Sandifer.

Sandifer says the CDC named the Greater Baton Rouge area as the 19th worse in the nation per capita for heroin over dose deaths in 2013. He says it's a huge problem it's important to sit down and address it.

"We need to keep the public informed that this is going on and possibly even get some new legislation passed that would address this problem," said Sandifer.

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Early voting begins today

The early voting period for the November 4th election kicks off today.  Secretary of State Tom Schedler says early voting will take place through October 28th from 8:30AM to 6PM, excluding Sunday.

 Schedler says early voter participation is on the rise.
"We don't see increasing numbers in overall participation, but we certainly seeing a creep of individuals taking advantage of early voting."
This year's election is highlighted by a hotly contested US Senate race and several contested Congressional races.  Schedler wants to remind voters that there are 14 Constitutional Amendments on this year's ballot.  He says voters should expect a lengthy ballot. 
"Over 4,400 candidates and some 2,400 positions available statewide."
Schedler says, statewide, this is the biggest election in the state in decades.   He says for sample ballots and early voting locations, you can go online at geauxvote-dot-com.  Schedler says he expects a voter turnout between 45 and 50-percent for this US Senate election. 
"I tilt more to the upper side of that range, just simply for the magnitude of this race and the importance and factoring in some of these local issues that will also fuel high participation."
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Two indicted in St. John Parish water system dispute and LSP amoeba investigation

Michelle Southern reporting. 
A grand jury indicted two St. John the Baptist Parish utilities workers in connection with an investigation into a deadly amoeba which was found in the parish's drinking water in August. Kurt Wall with the state Attorney General's office says there was a question about whether or not samples being collected were accurate.

"The logs where these collectors would write down specific dates and times and what the residual levels of chlorine were in that sample," said Wall. "And those didn't match up with what DHH had been randomly testing."

Wall says the workers were reporting the chlorine levels in the water supply were up to par but DHH did random testing and discovered, instead, the amoeba. He says that's when State Police stepped in and decided to check GPS coordinates on the vehicles these parish employees were using at the time they said samples were taken.

"When they checked the GPS coordinates it was determined that in many cases, the collector didn't even stop at the site all day," said Wall. "And these were samples that were supposed to be taken on a daily basis so that the water could be treated correctly."

Kevin Branch of LaPlace and Danielle Roussel of Pauline were each charged with one count of malfeasance in office and one count of filing and/or maintaining false public records. Each felony count carries up to 5 years in prison.

Wall says the St. John Parish Government is fully cooperating and are taking corrective steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

"They've brought in different types of testing procedures and different people to do the collected," said Wall. "This has been remedied and I don't think it's going to be an issue moving forward."

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Former President Bill Clinton stumps for Senator Landrieu

Former President Bill Clinton tells a crowd of Mary Landrieu supporters he doesn't see how the senior senator is not a clear favorite in Louisiana's US Senate race over her republican challengers. Clinton says Landrieu has a history of getting things done.

"Everyone of these analyses that the non-partisans groups in Washington do, show that she's one of the most bipartisan people in the US Senate and one of the most effective people in United States Senate." 
Clinton was in Baton Rouge Monday and spoke at a Landrieu rally. Her main opponent, Bill Cassidy, constantly ties Landrieu and her voting record to policies supported by President Obama. But Clinton says Louisiana voters should not look at the Senate race as a chance to vote against Obama. 
"You cannot afford to vote for what you're against, you have to vote for what you are for."
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DHH plans to stop hospital bills from going to rape victims

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Department of Health and Hospitals says they plan to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests. DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins says they plan intend to work with the legislature to craft bills for the 2014 session that would prohibit hospitals from charging rape survivors for the care they receive.

"Things like the emergency room cost, the cost of the person who performed the medical exam," said Watkins.

Advocacy groups and lawmakers were critical of the fact that women who had been raped were getting big hospital bills after checking in to be treated for the assault. 

Watkins says, under the plan, hospitals would be able to seek reimbursement for such expenses from the Crime Victim’s Reparation fund which receives fines associated with criminal cases.

"So you have an individual who is convicted of a violent criminal offense," said Watkins. "The fines and fees associated with that conviction are used to go into the fund and that's on a state level."

Watkins says they also plan to remove the requirement that survivors of sexual assault file a police report to qualify for that reimbursement. She also says they want to do away with the provision that victims be sober in order to get money from the fund for hospital bills.

"It shouldn't matter if a man or woman is sexually assaulted when they are under the influence of alcohol so that's something we want to address," said Watkins.

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Cleco sells for $3.4 billion

An investment group has agreed to buy Pineville based Cleco for a reported $3.4 billion.  Cleco Power has approximately 284,000 customers in Louisiana.

Cleco Power President Darren O'Lages says customers should not expect any change in utility rates or service as part of the sale.
"In many ways, from the customer stand point, there is really no change, other than the continued commitment of Cleco as a reliable service provider."
He says there are no lay-offs or restructuring of employee salaries planned.  The sale is expected to close in the second half of 2015.  O'Lages thinks this transaction came in at a price their shareholders will be happy with. 
"But at the same time, we have found an ownership group that understands Cleco, understands what has made us successful, understands our vision for the company and will be supportive of it."
He says this investment group is experienced and understands what it means to own utility companies and what it takes to make them successful.  O'Lages says the Cleco brand, and everything it stands for, will remain the same.  He says, other than no longer being a publicly traded company, it will be business as usual under the new ownership. 
"We will continue to have Louisiana management.  We will continue to have a board of directors with significant Louisiana representation.  But, by and large, the day-to-day business will stay the same."

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LSU Tigers back in the polls; College Gameday coming

After a two-week absence, The LSU Tigers are back in the Top 25 polls. The Bayou Bengals are ranked 24th in the AP poll, and 23rd in the coaches. LSU won easily on Saturday, 41-to-3 over the Kentucky Lions. Coach Les Miles says his team is getting better.

"That's the great thing about this team," Miles said. "This team has got a great attitude, great character, tough kids, they love playing, have a smile on there face. They are looking forward to playing in this next stretch, I promise you."
LSU will host 3rd ranked Ole Miss this Saturday. Game time is at 6:15. ESPN will televise the SEC West battle. And the network is bringing its popular pregame television show, "College Gameday" to campus. It's the 10th time College Gameday will air live from LSU on a football Saturday. 
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Saints can't preserve 13-point lead; lose to the Lions

Iappeared the Saints were on their way to a victory on Sunday in Detroit, but the Lions roared back with two touchdowns in the four minutes to beat New Orleans 24-23. New Orleans was in control for much of the game, but Detroit hit on a 73-yard touchdown pass with 3:38 left and couldn't recover.

"Tough loss," Coach Sean Payton said. "The guys played with energy, but it ended up not being enough. Down the stretch we had opportunities to win the game, it's frustrating we were not able to do it." 
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns. But threw an interception with just over three minutes left that set up Detroit's winning score. Brees believes the Saints can rebound from this heartbreaking loss. 
"2-and-4 is not where we want to be," Brees said. "But this what I believe, no better way to get back on track then to go home on Sunday night football against the Green Bay Packers, who are rolling right now, and find a way to win."
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Chic-Fil-A launches Pay-By-Phone app in North Louisiana

Michelle Southern reporting.
Customers at Chic-Fil-A locations in north Louisiana don't have to worry about bringing in cash or a credit card because now you'll be able to pay with your phone. David Benson is the local operator for the restaurants in Monroe and West Monroe and he says it all starts with downloading the Chic-Fil-A app.

"There is a pay function inside the app so you just come into one of our stores, order, scan your phone and it pays for your meal," said Benson.

Benson says people are slowly but surely catching on and using this method of payment to get their yummy chicken strips and nuggets. He says paying with your phone is more secure than using a credit card. All you have to do is load up whatever amount of money you wish on the app.

"If it reaches a certain dollar amount you can reload," said Benson. "And it's connected to your bank."

Benson says when you've loaded money into the app, you simply hit the pay button and scan the account code at the register or in the drive-thru line and the money is deducted from the account balance. He says next year the company plans to roll out "mobile ordering." Benson says Chic-Fil-A wants to stay ahead of the curve.

"They are predicting that in a few years this will account for almost 15-20% of our business," said Benson. "No cash. No credit card. Just your phone."

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Big Day for Louisiana college football teams

Saturday was a good day for Louisiana college football teams. The LSU Tigers had no trouble beating Kentucky 41-3. The Tigers started fast, scoring 17 points in the 1st quarter, highlighted by a Tre'Davious White 67 yard punt return for a touchdown.
LSU senior running back Terrence Magee had a big game, as he rushed for 127 yards and two rushing touchdowns, both coming in the 3rd quarter. 
The Tigers defense held Kentucky to 217 total yards. Kendell Beckwith had 9 total tackles, including one for a loss.
In Ruston, Louisiana Tech linebacker Terrell Pinson recovered a football for a touchdown and had two interceptions as the Bulldogs held on for a 27-20 victory over Texas-San Antonio. Kenneth Dixon also had 121 yards rushing and a touchdown for Tech, who improved to 3-0 in Conference USA action. 
Grambling State is now 5-0 in the SWAC after a 63-39 win over Arkansas Pine Bluff. Jonathan Williams threw for three touchdowns and ran for two scores. The Tigers defense also had eight sacks on the day. 
In the Southland, Northwestern State beat Sam Houston 31-27. Zach Adkins threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to De'Mard Llorens with 5:48 in the 4th quarter to give the Demons the lead for good. Adkins threw four TD passes on the day. 
McNeese State knocked off Abilene Christian 31-20. Daniel Sams threw three touchdown passes and also rushed for 112 yards. 
In Hammond, Bryan Bennett had three rushing touchdowns, including a 75-yarder, as Southeastern Louisiana defeated Central Arkansas 41-24. 
Nicholls State dropped to 0-8 on the season as the Colonels lost to Lamar 63-21. And Tulane fell to Central Florida 20-13. The Green Wave are now 2-5 on the season. 
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Ebola panic going overboard?

Are we freaking out a little too much over the threat of Ebola in the United States? State and National heath care officials are urging the public to take a chill pill when it comes to the threat of Ebola.

"Our energy and time needs to be directed toward the right place," says Dr. Frank Welch,  Medical Director for the state Department of Health and Hospitals. "I think the average person speculating they could walk down the street and get Ebola is an unrealistic fear."

Welch says people aren't concerned for "no reason" but it's over the top to think that you're going to walk outside and contract Ebola. He says, on the other hand, this is a huge wake up call for our health care system to keep their workers safe.

"Make sure that they understand that this theoretical possibility of something happening is really put into real world practice," said Welch.

Welch wants to emphasize that Louisiana has been intensively preparing for the possibility of an Ebola patient entering the health care system here at any level.

"Educating, training," said Welch. "We don't want what happened in Dallas to happen in Louisiana so we're doing everything we can to prepare beforehand."
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Community effort major part of recovery in Ouachita Parish after tornado devastation

Michelle Southern reporting.
The community that was hardest hit by the EF2 tornado in northeast Louisiana this week is making news because of the huge way they are rallying together to help each other out in the aftermath. Alan West Brockman is president of a property management company in Monroe and a local musician. He says it was amazing to see how many people came out to help clear all the debris.

"We are a city but we have a lot of roots in the northern delta of Louisiana if you will," said Brockman. "A lot of folks have tractors and brought them in from their farms, people were all out with their chainsaws. Everybody came together -- and still are."

Brockman says their local celebrated Chef Cory Bahr who owns Nonna in the Garden District is offering free meals to those helping out and Wal-Mart donated 500 pounds of meat for him to cook. He says it was a major grass roots effort by citizens taking charge.

"Neighbors came in and all other folks from the community," said Brockman. "The Department of Transportation was working left and right...Entergy. I can't tell you how many folks came together to help everybody."

At the peak of Entergy's outages, about 35,000 customers were without power and Friday morning that number was down to just under 2700. Brockman says the tornado caused trees to fall onto houses, crush cars, close businesses and several roads were completely impassable.

"And how no one was hurt or killed is a miracle," Brockman said. "If you're a praying person you have to give it to the good Lord above. And if not then you have to believe something happened here."

Below are videos of the devastation and rebuild produced by Brockman.

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Plain Dealing parents of runaway boy arrested on cruelty to juvenile and drug charges

The Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office has arrested the father and step-mother of the 11-year-old boy who ran away from home in Plain Dealing on charges of child abuse, neglect, and drug charges.  Lt. Bill Davis says the search for the boy began Tuesday evening and no one could find him.

"But about 25 hours later, he went up to a residence about five or six miles away from his home looking for food.  He was hungry and tired.  That's when we were able to bring him back to the family."
Davis says at that point the case turned when authorities noticed bruises on the boy's body. 
"That's when we got involved with the Department of Children and Family Services to help us out and they took custody of the boy.  And that's when the interviews started to find out that we had some criminal charges against this couple."
43-year-old Ernest Bell and 30-year-old Kristen Downs were booked into the Bossier Maximum Security Facility on several charges including cruelty to a juvenile, criminal neglect of family, and possession of marijuana.  
The neglect charges stem from the child not being enrolled in school for the past two years.  Davis believes the child was just trying to run away from an abusive situation. 
"And, fortunately, we found him safe and nothing else happened to him.  So, we're glad for that happy ending.  Just an unfortunate case."
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US Democrats in Congressional Black Caucus visiting Louisiana today

Michelle Southern reporting.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be in Louisiana today to try to boost black voter turnout with the focus of helping Senator Mary Landrieu's campaign. The 42 member caucus of Democrats say they are pushing Landrieu hard because they want to keep control of the Senate. 

"They understand the value of having a Senator from Louisiana who also understands their needs and who they can work with," says Louisiana Black Caucus Chairwoman Katrina Jackson.

Jackson says the CBC will be in New Orleans and Baton Rouge through Monday and possibly visit Alexandria. She says they will be encouraging voters to push the button for Landrieu, Congressman Cedric Richmond and 5th Congressional District Candidate, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

"And so they're coming in to work the districts with us visiting churches and attending events," said Jackson.

Jackson says national and local Democrats are spending upwards of $700,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts in the state. The Monroe lawmaker encourages residents to greet these United State politicians well.

"They are coming to our state at a key time," said Jackson. "This is a very important election and we need another seat."


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Dasher leads in campaign fundraising in 5th District

According to the Federal Election Commission, "Duck Dynasty" family member Republican Zach Dasher has raised the most campaign cash among the candidates for the 5th District Congressional seat.  Dasher has raised over $500,000 through the third quarter. 

ULM Political Science Professor Joshua Stockley says this shows Dasher's popularity among individual donors.
"Vance, Dr. Abraham, Harris Brown, they're relying on self financing, they're giving themselves loans, as well as donors.  So, their financial base is not as widespread as Zach, right now."
Stockley says Dasher is benefiting financially from the "Duck Dynasty" association.
"Undoubtedly, the "Duck Dynasty" family has probably reached out to a lot of their friends, family, and associates and have convinced their associates to also donate."
He says the four leading Republican candidates in this race have very equal levels of spending.  Stockley says although McAllister probably remains the favorite among the Republicans, nothing is guaranteed with less than three weeks to go.
"The polls indicate that it's tight.  The financing indicates that it's tight.  We still, very much, have a competitive election."
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Crowley High Teacher arrested for allegedly being involved with several students

Michelle Southern reporting.
There's been another sexual student/teacher incident. The Acadia Parish Sheriff's office says a woman who teaches at Crowley High is under arrest for allegedly being inappropriately involved with some of her students. 
Spokeswoman Maxine Trahan says they received an initial report about 34-year-old Tracy Marie Barras of Duson in early October.

"Sheriff Wayne Melancon advised that they were contacted by officials with the Acadia Parish School board who reported possible inappropriate behavior between a teacher and several 16-year-old male students," said Trahan.

Trahan says after an investigation they were able to obtain a warrant for the arrest of Barras.

"Barras has been charged with three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile," said Trahan said. "There are three male subjects and they are all 16 years of age."

Barras was booked this week into the Acadia Parish jail on $60,000 bond.
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LSU employee who recently visited Africa asked to stay home for three weeks

Michelle Southern reporting.
An LSU employee who was recently in Ebola stricken Liberia has been asked to stay off campus for 21 days. That's the time frame during which symptoms of the virus could show up according to Olivia Watkins with the state Department of Health and Hospitals. She says the man told DHH he did not have contact with anyone who had Ebola so he's night considered high risk.

"We're still monitoring him to make sure that he does not develop symptoms," said Watkins. "We confirmed with him that he understands what those signs and symptoms are and knows what to watch for, but we'll still be going in twice daily."

The man was reportedly part of a team who taught Liberian police how to put on and discard protective gear such as gloves, booties and protective covering. Watkins says the man is not being forced to stay in his home while he has no symptoms.

"So what we're doing right now is making sure that within that 21 day window, that he does not develop symptoms," said Watkins. "And if he did he would be taken to the hospital."

Watkins says it's important to remember that Ebola can not be passed to another individual when there are no symptoms present. She says DHH is working closely with LSU and with GOHSEP to make sure that everyone is communicating and getting updates on the situation.

"To make sure that our emergency response personnel across the state know what's going on both with potential cases and our level of preparedness," said Watkins.


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Many in Ouachita Parish still without power

Many homes and businesses in Monroe and West Monroe remain powerless as a result of a tornado that moved through the area Monday.  Entergy spokesman Roderick Worthy says at the height of the storm, about 38,000 customers were without power in the Ouachita Parish area.

"We've gotten that finally down under 5,000 and we expect to make steady progress all day and tomorrow." 
Entergy's goal is to have power fully restored tomorrow.  Worthy says Entergy's system sustained significant damage as the EF-2 tornado rolled through. 
"There was a lot of structural damage to our infrastructure and also a lot of structural damage in the public, where lots of trees and vegetation and debris has really prohibited the pace at which we can go and restore and repair service."
He asks everyone to please be patient and, more importantly, be safe. 
"A downed power line can still be dangerous and deadly.  So, any kind of wire down, we're really asking the public to treat that as a live wire and stay away from it."
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Louisiana 911 operators to screen callers for Ebola symptoms

Michelle Southern reporting.
A new protocol has been implemented to 911 operators in Louisiana which has them screen callers for Ebola symptoms. Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Kevin Davis says the caller will be asked a series of questions about illnesses, particularly fever and recent travel. He says that will help EMS responding.

"Because if they should answer several of the questions then when they switch the call over to EMS they can tell them that it is a suspected case," said Davis.

Davis says the operators would ask about flu like symptoms, whether the person has recently been to an Ebola outbreak country and if they have been in contact with someone who has been exposed to the virus. He says the information would immediately be sent to responders.

"The ambulance then in turn would receive that information that it is a possible suspect," said Davis. "Then be prepared when they arrive on the scene."

Davis says the callers answers would determine whether more questions would follow and whether the emergency responder would need to wear protective gear to the call. He says the person would be asked additional questions when in route then EMS would let the hospital know they have a suspect patient.

"Then the hospital would be better prepared and knowledgeable," said Davis. "They may even ask the ambulance to use a separate entrance and then the protocol would kick in."

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Is the Ebola crisis affecting chocolate prices?

Michelle Southern reporting.
Could the Ebola outbreak in West Africa be having an affect on the price we pay for chocolate? A local chocolate maker doesn't think so. Michael Nelson is the Vice President of Operations at Elmer Candy Corporation in Ponchatoula. He says the concern among some market analysts is that the Ebola crisis could spread from Liberia to Ghana, where almost two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans are sourced.

"So I would think that people hear about a scare or a potential mass outbreak where there's going to be significant fatalities and then they think that must affect the harvest of cocoa in that region," said Nelson.

Nelson says chocolate is trading above what he would consider a fundamental level in terms of a supply and demand standpoint, but he says that's as much the Ebola scare as it is the speculative traders in the market.

"Speculators are people who own foreign contracts of cocoa that only actually plan to take delivery," said Nelson. "They're just financial speculators."

Nelson says you should know there is no way to contract Ebola from chocolate. He says the harvest is about to begin and is rumored to be very good. Nelson doesn't see evidence, at this point, that the Ebola outbreak is moving the price of cocoa.

"The outbreak kinda began in late August early September, but the market is just still in that 3,000-3200 range for quite some time and now it's 3100," Nelson said.

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