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Teen given citation in fatal Ouachita Parish crash

The teenager who was driving the vehicle that crashed in Ouachita Parish and killed 5 of the 8 family members on board was issued a citation for careless operation.  The family was on their way from Texas to Disney World for a vacation.  

State Trooper Michael Reichardt says the teen, who has not been identified, was cited when he was released from the hospital.
"...with a traffic citation for careless operation.  It's just a regular traffic ticket.  He was not charged with a crime."

Reichardt says the teen is having to deal with so much right now.

"You know, this 16-year-old is going through the most horrific thing he'll ever go through in his life.  It's just a tragic accident."

Two adults, Michael and Trudy Hardman, and three of their children, 15-year-old Dakota Watson, 7-year-old Adam Hardman, and 5-year-old Kaci Hardman were killed in the crash.  Reichardt says the teenager was issued a citation because it's State Police policy.

"If we work a crash, regardless of the severity of the crash, there will be a citation written."
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"Click It or Ticket" campaign to begin in time for Thanksgiving holiday

As we near the Thanksgiving holiday, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is coordinating a statewide Click It of Ticket campaign aimed at saving lives.  Executive Director Lt. Col. John Leblanc says last year's Thanksgiving holiday was one of the most dangerous of the year on Louisiana roadways.

"There were 409 fatal and injury accidents during that holiday period, five fatals and 689 injuries."

He says Louisiana's seat belt compliance rate is 82.5-percent, the highest it's ever been.  Leblanc says the compliance rate has gone up 8-percent in the last four years.

"Statisticians tell us that every time the compliance rate goes up one percentage point, about eight lives are saved in Louisiana, so we're happy about that.  But we still lag behind the national average which is 87-percent."

He says the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest for travel with more vehicles on the road and a greater chance of accidents.  Louisiana law requires all people to use seat belts and Leblanc says it's important to "Click It" to reduce the risk of fatal injury in an accident.

"You increase your chances of surviving by about 45-percent when you wear your seat belt when involved in an accident." 
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Cassidy has large lead in Senate poll

There's a new Rasmussen poll out on the December 6th US-Senate runoff and it shows incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu with 41% of the vote and Congressman Bill Cassidy with 56%. UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says there are several factors working against Landrieu's chances at re-election.
"Popularity of Barack Obama, the failure to pass the Keystone, the changing political climate of Louisiana and its increasing conservatism and its increasing move to the Republican party," Cross says. 
In the survey just three percent said they were undecided. Cross says there is also an enormous amount of money being spent to try to defeat Landrieu now that other races across the country are over. But he says a 15 point Landrieu deficit seems a bit high.

"Remember she got 42 percent just in the primary so one would think she'd get a few more percentage points but still that is a devastating margin and its a margin that means winning is well outside the margin or error," Cross says. 

The survey also found that only 76% of registered Democrats in Louisiana would vote for Landrieu. Cross says it's not good that the incumbent isn't even getting good numbers from her own party.

"Frankly, the reflects the fact that there are many, many white democrats and white democrats are increasingly voting Republican but haven't changed their registration yet," Cross says. 
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Louisiana business consultant says President's immigration reform doesn't go far enough

President Barack Obama announced his plans for immigration reform last night, but there are many who say more needs to be done. Local business consultant Randy Hayden says the new Congress that is sworn in next year should look at making more working visas available, which could help with the state's worker shortage.

"There is a limit nationally on how many visas we can get, so that stifles the growth of Louisiana businesses, it stifles the growth of our economy," Hayden says. 
Hayden says with the state on the cusp of an economic boom, experts predict we'll have trouble finding enough workers in the areas of science, technology  and engineering and math. Hayden says fixing the nation's current worker visa program could help.

"Our encouragement is that the new congress will address those issues and turn immigration reform into an opportunity to improve our economy and make things better for everybody in Louisiana," Hayden says.
Hayden says one area of reform desperately needed deals with foreign students who are a educated by a Louisiana college and university, but then can't stay after graduation because they can't get a visa.

"We can't offer them an opportunity to take their skills and talents and serve Louisiana citizens, serve American citizens then we end up sending them back home to compete against us," Hayden says. 
(Image from Visa HQ)
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Early voting for December runoff elections begins Saturday

The early voting period for the December 6th runoff elections begins Saturday.  Secretary of State Tom Schedler says early voting will run through next Saturday November 29th excluding a few days.

"The exception would be the Sunday in between and Thanksgiving Day and Friday."

Schedler says there is no early voting next Friday because of an executive order from Governor Jindal declaring the day after Thanksgiving a state holiday.  He is predicting a 30 to 35-percent voter turnout for the December runoff election.  But Schedler expects voter turnout in the 5th and 6th Congressional districts to outpace the rest of the state.

"Those two Congressional Districts will probably be the heaviest because you'll be drawing in the Senate race and the Congressional races."

Schedler says, even though control of the Senate has already been decided, it is still important to hit your polling place, even if it the US Senate race is the only item on your ballot.

"I believe there are several parishes that are free of everything else.  It was all resolved in November."

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Mid-year budget cuts to be revealed today

The Jindal Administration will be announcing mid-year budget cuts today. Louisiana is facing a $171 million dollar revenue shortfall. Jindal's chief administrator has indicated that higher education will avoid any substantial cuts, but Senate Finance chairman Jack Donahue doesn't see that being possible.

"It's very surprising that they could cut $171 million without impacting the budget," said Donahue.

There are many dedicated budget items that can't be cut so typically higher education and heath care are hit hardest. Donahue says he's all ears to see what the Jindal Administration has in mind.

"This is an incredible amount of money," said Donahue. "I mean we fight in the legislature over $10,000."

Higher education in Louisiana has been dealt massive cuts in state funding over the past sevearl years. Donahue says we're dealing with major revenue shortage and he feels the the state gives away too much money in tax credits. 

He says dollars seem to go as soon as they come in and Louisiana can't get seem to get ahead.

"I would like to try to do something to reign in those exemptions," said Donahue. "We need to make sure we understand how much we're giving away and that we're getting the bang for the buck."

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Report: Louisiana black bears unlikely to become extinct

A new study from the US Geological Survey finds there's less than a one-percent chance of the Louisiana black bear population going extinct in the next 100 years. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, Maria Davidson, says they hope this report will result in the Louisiana Black Bear being removed from the Endangered Species List. 

"The department (LDWF) feels like we are certainly there, but that decision is up to the US Fish and Wildlife Service," Davidson said. 
Davidson says they don't have an exact number of how many Louisiana black bears are out there. She can say it's relatively small, but healthy population. 
It's estimated there were only 80 to 120 Louisiana black bears in the 1950s. The study found that more than half of the Black Bears now alive, are in the northeastern part of the state in the Tensas River Basin. Davidson says the report also indicates the bears are moving from one region to another. 
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Louisiana Cannabis Industry Association endorsed Cassidy in the Senate runoff

The Louisiana Cannabis Industry Association has endorsed Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy over Democratic incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu. Louisiana Cannabis spokesperson Jesse McCormick says in a debate last month Cassidy said he supports the legal use of medical marijuana, while Landrieu opposes it.

"So when our board met, they thought that, I mean, this is why this association was created, they thought they'd support a candidate who supports what they support."

McCormick says because Cassidy is a doctor, he understands why there’s a need for marijuana to be legal for medicinal purposes.

"There's certain times, particularly when somebody's suffering from cancer or whenever they're suffering from extreme nausea and pain, that it's a viable treatment option and he thinks it should be available."

McCormick says the LCIA hopes there might be some new action regarding legalizing medical marijuana now that the Republicans have a stronger control of the House and the Senate.

"As they see statewide voters getting more popular with the topic, that nationally they may feel compelled to do something." 
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New 6th District poll shows Graves with big lead over Edwards

A new poll on the 6th Congressional District runoff shows Republican Garret Graves with a large lead over Democrat former governor Edwin Edwards.  The JMC Analytics and Polling survey shows Graves with 59 percent of the vote with Edwards getting 34 percent.  

Pollster John Couvillon says the numbers show that Republicans have really gotten behind Graves as the GOP nominee.
"Edwin Edwards is basically stuck with a very static Democratic base in a district that is not friendly to Democrats."

Graves has agreed to at least one debate with Edwards, although few think that any debate will have a noticeable impact in this race.  Couvillon points out that throughout this campaign, Edwards support has remained in the 35-percent range.

"But I never saw that percentage grow which suggests to me, that even though he had universal name recognition, people had already formed their opinions of the former governor, both pro and con.

Edwards says his campaign is working on his first television campaign commercial that is set to air next week.  This will be Edwards first campaign ad in 22 years.  Couvillon says, while Edwards does have support, there appears to be too much against him to win on December 6th.

"He has a larger number of people who are not supportive of him so they're basically taking an 'Anyone But Edwards' approach.   And then, of course, the rank and file Republicans who voted for (Paul) Dietzel and (Dan) Claitor, they're just lining up behind the Republican candidate now." 
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Car crash in Ouachita Parish claims the lives of five

State Police say five family members, who were heading to Walt Disney World in Florida, were killed in a single vehicle accident on I-20 in Ouachita Parish last night.  Three of the victims were juveniles.
Trooper Michael Reichardt says a 16-year-old behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
"Ran off the road, to the left into the median.  After entering the median, the driver over corrected and the vehicle began to roll over.  As the vehicle was rolling over, six of the eight occupants of the vehicle and five of those were pronounced dead at the scene."

He says six people were ejected from the vehicle and five were pronounced dead at the scene.  The others were taken to area hospitals for treatment for their injuries.  Reichardt says authorities were able to talk to the 16-year-old driver.

"He had his seat belt on and lived and he told the troopers on the scene that he thinks he fell asleep and felt the rumble strips as he went to the median and jerked the wheel back to the right."

Reichardt says the 16-year-old is a licensed driver in his home state of Texas.  He says, as far as they know, the driver was the only one wearing a seat belt.  Reichardt says this is a real tragedy, especially being so close to the holiday season.

"Of the five victims, three children, one of them was four, one of them was seven, and the other one was fifteen and two adults that were in the car." 
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Great American Smokeout: Reminder about free smoking cessation program in Louisiana

Michelle Southern reporting.
November 20th is the Great American Smoke out and the Smoking Cessation Trust, or SCT, is urging smokers in Louisiana to take advantage of all the free products and servies available to help them quit -- TODAY. SCT CEO Mike Rogers says qualified applicants are entitled to certain "stop smoking" benefits which tabacco companies fund.

"You do what you normally do to get assistance, whether it's to talk to your doctor or pharmacist and get what you need to help you quit," said Rogers. "If you have our benefit card you hand it over and we pay for that, you don't."

Rogers says in order to qualify for the free benefits you'd need to have started smoking cigarettes before September 1, 1988 and live in Louisiana. He says since their program started in 2012, over 22,000 citizens have received the benefit card.

Applicants who are approved will be eligible to receive cessation medications, nicotine replacement therapy, counseling and other services absolutely free. Rogers says about 25% of Louisianians smoke and about half of those people qualify for the program.

"That's about 400,000 people statewide," said Rogers. "So we've got a long way to go."

To apply log on to www.smokefreela.org.

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Grambling's Faculty Senate gives a

The faculty senate at Grambling State University has given a "no confidence" vote for interim president Cynthia Warrick. GSU faculty Senate President, Dr. Herbert Simmons Jr, says they are disappointed Warrick hired several administrators at a six-figure salary, when the university faces a 3.7 million dollar deficit.

"That became a concern and we tried to talk to the president about that, but of course it was to no avail," Simmons said.
Calls to Grambling's administration seeking comment were not returned. Warrick was named as Grambling's interim A-D in June.
Simmons says Warrick has also made significant decisions regarding pay and teacher work loads, without consulting faculty. 
"We expect to be consulted when it comes to matters of that nature, but apparently there was a different opinion about that." Simmons said.
A committee has been set up to find a permanent president for the Lincoln Parish school and April is the goal to name a new leader. But Simmons told University of Louisiana System President Doctor Sandra Woodley a change needs to happen now. 
"We pretty much had enough," Simmons said.
Here's a statement from UL System President Sandra Woodley:

“This is a very difficult time for Grambling State University, and I acknowledge the frustration that comes with change. We are in the midst of a presidential search and are committed to seeking the best possible person for the long-term leadership of this important historically black university. Grambling State’s Interim President Cynthia Warrick continues to have the support of the University of Louisiana System as she makes decisions that will move the university forward, yet we will work with Dr. Warrick to ensure she continues to keep lines of communication open with the faculty.”

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Pilgrims Pride Natchitoches plant one of the nine worst in country

The Pilgrims Pride plant in Natchitoches is listed as one of the nine worst chicken plants in the nation for animal cruelty.  The list was compiled by Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Welfare Institute.  

Farm Sanctuary director of policy, Bruce Friedrich, says they obtained plant violation information from the federal government through the Freedom of Information Act.
"We looked at the plants that got the most citations for acts that constitute cruelty to animals and that Pilgrims plant was one of the nine worst in the country."

He says Pilgrims Pride is responsible for almost a fifth of all poultry production in the United States and they have three plants on the list.  Friedrich says one violation that put the Natchitoches plant on the list was the report of workers routinely throwing live birds into bags of dead on arrival birds.

"Where they would dehydrate to death and that was found multiple times.  They also had bad protocols for cold weather which caused many animals to freeze to death."

In a statement, Pilgrims Farms says the plant has addressed the concerns raised through voluntary corrective actions to ensure compliance with their internal policies and state and federal laws.  But Friedrich says it's not enough for the company to say we'll do better next time.

"They should be significantly sanctioned under the Poultry Products Inspection Act and this illegal activity should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

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Two arrested in shooting death of football coach

Baton Rouge Police have arrested two cousins in connection with the shooting death of West. St. John High School football coach Juan Joseph.  Cpl. Don Coppola says they arrested 25-year-old Lemark Cloud Monday night.  

He says 25-year-old Kendric Cloud was taken into custody Tuesday.
"Kendric turned himself in last night to officers at the 4th District Precinct while accompanied with an attorney.  Kendric has been identified as the shooter in the death of Mr. Joseph."

Lemark is the alleged getaway driver in the incident.  It is reported that both men have criminal histories.  Coppola says the investigation is ongoing and little is known about the incident at this time.

"There was some type of altercation upon the club closing early Sunday morning which lead to the shooting that lead to the unfortunate death of Mr. Joseph."

It is reported that Joseph was trying to diffuse the situation when the shooting occurred.  Lemark has been charged with accessory to second degree murder and other charges due to his involvement.  Coppola says Kendric was booked into the East Baton Rouge Prison last night.

"On charges of second degree murder, illegal use of a weapon, and felon in possession of a firearm." 
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Drones are becoming big business in Louisiana

According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the drone industry will have an estimated economic impact of $213 million dollars on Louisiana over the next three years and generate over 1,000 jobs. President Michael Toscano says there are many entities that have started making drones a big part of their business.

"The agriculture and farming, oil and gas, the movie industry and public safety," Toscano says. 

According to the secretary of state’s website, several drone companies have popped up in Louisiana over the last couple of years. Toscano says unmanned aircraft systems are very good as delivery systems and situation awareness — the extension of the eyes and ears of a human.

"So if you look at it, its just a tool, as just an additional capability that allows men and women, that know how to do their job, do it in a much more efficient way," Toscano says. 

Toscano says utility companies are using drones to inspect things like pipes and power lines which is a far more safe and effective way. He says farmers can use drones to check on the health of their crops and water and spray them more efficiently and selectively. Toscano says the ways people can use drones to make their jobs easier is growing by the day.

"Whether you're monitoring the weather, whether you're monitoring wildlife, whether you're looking for lost people, whether you're trying to grow better crops," Toscano says. 

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Flu activity on the rise in Louisiana

According to the Department of Health and Hospitals, flu activity is on the increase in Louisiana.  Frank Welch, Medical Director for the Immunization Program, says the state typically gets a late start on flu activity, but not this year.

"Our influenza activity is just about at the regional base line, but that's higher than we typically have seen in the past few years."

He says there is no real reason why the flu is more active in Louisiana this year in comparison to recent years.  Welch says it appears the flu is broadly broken out all over the state.

"We don't have any real epicenters, yet.  But, all over Louisiana are now reporting what we call moderate activity.  So, it's pretty much everywhere."

Welch says the strain of flu that seems to be dominant this year, is one that is captured by the flu shot.  He says if you haven't gotten your flu shot, yet, now is the time to do so.  Welch says there are two reason you should get inoculated.

"Not only so you won't get the flu, but remember the flu has to come from someone else.  So by getting your flu shot you're not spreading the flu to anyone else."  
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Analyst: Keystone pipeline fail in Senate final nail in Landrieu's coffin

Michelle Southern reporting.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu did not prevail in her attempt to get the US Senate to pass a bill that would authorize the construction of the Keystone Oil Pipeline. The measure needed 60 votes to pass but it only got 59. 

Landrieu has spent the last week trying to pass the bill as a way to show her clout in Congress in the Senate runoff.

"This is why Landrieu only got 40% of the vote in Louisiana," says Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat. "The National Democratic Party, the President and all of the northeast is against our energy production. This highlights why Louisiana has become so Republican."

Pinsonat says at this point, he has no idea why Landrieu would continue to fight in the runoff against Congressman Bill Cassidy.

"I don't know why Landrieu would continue to run," said Pinsonat. "The Democrats have basically deserted her and the Louisiana voters have spoken and 60% of them did not vote for an incumbent US Senator."

Pinsonat says the fact that Landrieu couldn't pull off the push to pass the Keystone bill by her own colleagues is the final nail in her coffin in the US Senate race.

"She's going to spend a lot of money and the outcome is not going to change," said Pinsonat. "This bill may have helped a little bit, but certainly now the way it's turned out is even more devastating."

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ACLU expresses concerns over a Baton Rouge student who was yelled at about being gay

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana says a school bus driver in East Baton Rouge Parish detained and harassed a student because he thought the 16-year-old was gay. Executive Director Marjorie Esman says the incident involved a student from Broadmoor High School.

"He had stayed behind on the bus and closed the door and gave him a lecture about how he was going to go to hell because he was gay," Esman says. 

Esman says they've asked the East Baton Rouge School System to fully investigate the complaint and educate their employees, including bus drivers, it's illegal to harass a student based on sexual orientation or religion.
"At the very least make sure that faculty and staff are trained in what the first amendment requires and prohibits, which is proselytizing students," Esman says. 

E-B-R school system spokesperson Keith Bromery says the bus driver's supervisor is aware of the situation and it's been addressed... "The driver in question was counseled by her direct transportation department supervisor, in a sense reprimanded for the behavior," Broemery says. 

Bromery says they'll use this incident as an example when training bus drivers that they should not harass students about religious or sexual orientation beliefs.
"It would be reinforced with the drivers that behavior of this nature, any kind of proselytizing, or anything that mirrors discrimination would not be tolerated," Broemery says.  

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Former Destrehan teacher arrested in sex case seeks changes to her house arrest

The former 32-year-old Destrehan High School teacher arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student has asked a judge to ease her house arrest restrictions. Shelley Dufrense is seeking to be allowed outside of her home from 7 A-M to 8 PM, so she can take her kids to school and attend an exercise class. Legal analyst Tim Meche says it's likely the judge will grant Dufrense's request.

"In general judges are likely to relax conditions of bail once they see the defendant is making an effort to comply," Meche said.  
According to court records, Dufrense would like to attend a Jazzercise class to help treat her depression and a mood disorder. Meche says judges react favorably in cases where a person is trying to improve their mental and physical health. 
"Sounds like a much more reasonable request than being cooped up in a house, perhaps doing unhealthy things," Dufrense said.
A hearing on the motion is set for next Tuesday. The court records also indicate Dufrense's oldest child has autism spectrum disorder and requires therapy twice a week. 
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Ouachita Parish not declared a federal disaster area

Ouachita Parish will not be declared a federal disaster area after tornadoes ripped through the area last month.  Without the declaration, public agencies in the parish will not receive federal reimbursement for costs associated with storm damage expenses.

Neal Brown is the Director of the Ouachita Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
"It is disappointing.  It wasn't entirely unexpected.  But it is disappointing that we didn't make the threshold."

FEMA calculated that the tornadoes did $4 million in damage and $6.3 million in damage is required to be declared a federal disaster.  Brown says they also didn't reach the threshold of uninsured home owners who were impacted.

"We had about 55 to 60 homes and properties that were either destroyed or had major damage that were uninsured or either under insured."

He says, without the federal disaster declaration, local government will take the biggest monetary hit in the cleanup after the storm since federal reimbursement is not available.  Brown points out that individuals will also be affected by this decision.

"Especially the ones that were uninsured.  And if you're one of those individuals you're a lot more worried about that than you are about what the government spent." 

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