The St. Helena Parish Sheriff's office says a 12-year-old boy died on the 4th of July when riding on a utility terrain vehicle and the adult driver is arrested. Detective Joe Chaney says 36-year-old Joshua Tharpe of Baton Rouge and the juvenile were riding the UTV on a wet sand bar and took a sharp sudden turn.
"I don't know if he accelerated or what but it rolled over, the child fell out and the UTV rolled on top of the child," said Chaney.
Deputies did not release the boy's name. Chaney says Tharpe was charged with vehicular homicide and has since been released on a $100,000 bond.
He says they are still working to determine what happened and if Tharpe was being negligent.
"We're not saying that he was at this time and the investigation is ongoing," said Chaney. "But when you have an incident of this magnitude the charge is vehicular homicide."
A UTV is similar to an ATV but is larger. Chaney says you should always be careful on these types of vehicles.
"There are a lot of UTVs and ATVs out there in the summertime and we know they are fun but safety guidelines should always be followed," said Chaney.
Same-sex couples who want to change their last name on their driver's license to reflect the same name as their spouse can do so starting today. State Police Lt. JB Slaton says the Office of Motor Vehicles had to upgrade their computers so they can change a man's last name.
"We had to make sure everything is operational," Slaton said. "Effective July 6th, everything is up and running, everything is working."
Slaton says couples who wish to change their name, must bring a certified marriage license, along with social security records.
"The name will have to be verified through Social Security," Slaton said.
Slaton says they also want to remind all residents, can get a six-year driver's license, instead of a four-year license. He says it will cost four dollars more, but hopefully it will lead to shorter lines at the DMV.
"We're trying to make sure the system runs smoother, and that's one thing we've implemented that we think is really going to help," Slaton said.
The rising number of youth who are constantly on their cell phones and computers are putting strain on their eyes. Doctors say they've seen a growing amount of young patients suffering from computer vision syndrome. Dr. Monica Monica, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says when looking at screens your blink rate decreases.
"Blinking is very important because people will dry out," said Monica. "The tear film will evaporate and unless you blink and spread that tear film you can get dry eye syndrome."
Both eye strain and headaches are associated with prolonged exposure to the screens.
Monica says our eyes are suffering the consequences of smart phone, computer and tablet use. She says those in the millennial generation and younger are especially affected by the harmful effects.
"Because younger folks are on these devices longer than older folks," said Monica. "Teenagers are on video games 8-10 hours a day, non-stop, and they're not taking breaks."
A recent study found 68 percent of millennials reporting digital eye strain.
Monica says when looking at things close up, muscles in the eye actually have to contract, to change the shape of the lens, to focus.
She says the best thing to do if you're in front of a computer all day is to take periodic breaks.
"And, if you have a proclivity to dry eyes, use some artificial tears, preferably preservative-free, that are available over the counter. And use them frequently when you're using these devices."
An annual statewide survey from LSU finds that consumer confidence in Louisiana has fallen below the nation for the first time in recent years. Michael Henderson, research director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, says the Louisiana Consumer Sentiment Index fell by six points from the end of the third quarter of 2014 to the end of the first quarter of 2015.
"These numbers basically mean that people in Louisiana are tightening their wallets a little bit more than they were six months earlier," Henderson said.
While Louisiana's consumer confidence was falling, consumer sentiment grew nationally by nearly 10-points. He says northwest Louisiana, southwest Louisiana and the New Orleans area all fell significantly below the national estimate, and the drop in oil prices and the effects it had on the state's energy industry could be to blame.
"We saw unemployment increase in the state at the time, even as it dropped in the nation at the time, so we are seeing sort of a similar pattern here," Henderson said.
LSU's Public Policy Research Lab has tracked consumer confidence since 2012 and this is the first time consumer sentiment in the state is nearly 10 points below the nation. Henderson says since they conducted this survey, oil prices have stabilized, slowing down lay-offs in the energy sector.
"It will be interesting to see if the state is bouncing back, especially if this was driven by energy prices," Henderson said.
The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says it will use the announced BP settlement money to ensure Louisiana will remain Sportsman's Paradise for years to come. The agreement means the state will receive at least $6.8 billion for damages associated with the 2010 oil spill.
"There's money there for blurred habitat restoration, there's research money to ensure that our seafood industry remains the tremendous economic driver of Louisiana and part of our ingrained culture," says LDWF Secretary Robert Barham.
Barham says we've come a long way in furthering the understanding of the effects of the spill on our wildlife and fisheries and they are eager to continue those efforts.
"We will do research on every creature along our coast that was impacted by this event," said Barham.
Details of the complex settlement will be worked through over the next 60 days according to state leaders. Barham says the science, and the money that supports that science, will be there for years to come.
"And again, our grandchildren will be able to call this the Sportsman's Paradise, and recover from this horrific event," said Barham.
Gubernatorial candidate Democrat Amite Representative John Bel Edwards begins his first statewide tour today. He'll be in Amite this afternoon, New Orleans this evening, covers Acadiana tomorrow and will hit every corner of the state through Sunday.
UL Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says Edwards needs to get his name out there.
"Doing a campaign like this is one way to get people who wouldn't ordinarily notice you to come to one of your events as you travel around the state."
In a release, Edwards says you'll see their caravan on the highways and byways of the Bayou State and he plans to deliver solution driven ideas in person to voters. Cross says although people generally like him for his strong record, most voters don't know very much about Edwards.
"When they hear the name Edwards they may think oh no Edwin again, so he needs to get out in front of people to have a chance in this race at all."
The planned tour includes 25 cities across Louisiana as well as impromptu stops across the state. Cross believes because Edwards has a D behind his name, he has a good chance of making the runoff. He says the endorsement from famous superstar Britney Spears and her Kentwood family is great publicity for him.
"He's probably the least known candidate statewide. He needs everything he can. Every way he can get statewide recognition without spending precious dollars is a win for Edwards."
As the new school year is quickly approaching, The Department of Health and Hospitals is reminding parents to get their children vaccinated as required by law. DHH Immunization Medical Director Dr. Frank Welch says now is the perfect time to prevent diseases like measles, mumps, the flu and whooping cough.
"During your summer break, why not just pick up the phone, call your pediatrician and ask if your child needs shots to get back into school. And if so schedule that appointment during the summer when it's not so busy."
Welch says getting updated shots is so important because it protects not only your children from missing school but the community, as well. He says children first entering school need proof they've had vaccinations for polio, mumps and measles, hepatitis, chickenpox and diphtheria.
"In order to enter school in Louisiana you need to have a certain number of vaccines. Really what we do is assess not only when they enter school but two other times as well, Kindergarten and 6th grade.
When entering middle school, students are required to have the meningitis vaccine and Tdap, once again. Welch says most Louisianians ensure their children are vaccinated.
"Louisiana is kind of known for being lowest in the country for a whole lot of things but based on our immunization school law, Louisiana parents and schools do very, very well."
Secretary of State Tom Schedler announces a major overhaul of the state's geauxBIZ-dot-com website. The website was launched in 2009 as a way for people to easily find information necessary to start and maintain a business.
Schedler says this upgrade to the site means doing business in Louisiana just got easier.
"Truly streamlining and cutting out a lot of bureaucratic red tape and redundancy for the business entities out there forming that want to get on with actually opening their business."
The new website allows business owners to complete the legal steps necessary to start a business in one visit to the site. Schedler says this is all about improving the business climate in the state. He says feedback from the site has been overwhelmingly positive as they work out a few kinks.
"We've got a 95-percent survey success rate from people that said they would refer it, liked the system. But, nonetheless, you want to get everything out of it and make sure it's working smooth."
The overhaul allows the Secretary of State's office to share information with the Department of Revenue and the Workforce Commission cutting down the steps people have to take to start a business. Schedler says the goal is to add other agencies to the system.
"With this now basic project underway now, the hard work's been done, the programming's been done. The merging of other agencies into this will not be quite as difficult in the future."
Louisiana Radio Network's ongoing gubernatorial Q&A asked the four major gubernatorial candidates, "If elected, what steps will you take to rebuild Louisiana's coastline and how will you make sure that dollars intended for coastal restoration are actually used for that purpose?"
Amite Representative John Bel Edwards says, as governor, he would make sure that coastal restoration money is only spent on coastal restoration.
"We must budget honestly and responsibly. I will steadfastly honor the statutory dedications and make sure that this money is spent for no other purpose."
US Senator David Vitter says it's not only important to ensure coastal restoration funds are used for their intended purpose, but he plans to accelerate three to five key coastal restoration projects in the coastal restoration master plan.
"So that we're actually breaking ground in the next four years. Really giving people hope and not endlessly studying things."
Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne says rebuilding the coast is not only important for Louisiana, but the country as a whole. He says, as governor, he's committed to implementing the coastal restoration master plan.
"Setting up a system to fund coastal protection projects on a priority basis to maximize the rebuilding of land and to make certain that we build hurricane protection into the plan."
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle says we must ensure that coastal restoration remains a priority in Louisiana. He says he's committed to take preventative measures to ensure coastal restoration money is used properly.
"I, as governor, I would support legislation that would criminalize the misuse of any of these funds for purposes not consistent with the coastal restoration master plan."
The Department of Children and Family Services is urging parents and caregivers to be careful with fireworks around children during this weekend’s festivities. DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier says that although fireworks can be beautiful, adults need to be aware of the danger to children.
She cites a statistic in a report from 2013.
"Around the July 4th Holiday, children under the age of 15 accounted for 40% of firework related injuries," said Sonnier.
She encourages parents to not let children handle fireworks, but also to be directly involved in all activities with their children for the holiday.
"We encourage parents to absolutely keep an eye on their children at all times," said Sonnier.
Sonnier says parents might consider attending public firework displays with their kids instead of lighting their own because it is often safer.
"Often those fireworks are even more beautiful and more phenomenal, but definitely there is more safety on that community level," said Sonnier.
Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law a bill which will now double the fines for littering in Louisiana. Keep Louisiana Beautiful is asking residents to be mindful when disposing used fireworks and other party debris this weekend. Executive Director Susan Russell says they support anything that increases the enforcement effort.
"We can't stress enough of how important it is to hold people accountable for their actions in our state."
Currently, a first offense of simple littering can result in a $75 fine and a $500 fine for any other offenses. The new law increases that from $150 to $1,000. Russell says what’s most important is that Louisiana should be kept clean.
"If everybody just took personal responsibility for their behaviors and actions, laws on the book wouldn't have to be enforced. It's a shame that they have to be there but for some people, unfortunately, they do need to be there."
Improperly disposing items like furniture and appliances could end up costing offenders $10,000 under the new law. Russell says it's very easy to pick up after yourself.
"If you're responsible for what you do then none of that needs to be enforced and so that is the ultimate goal."
While many people will be out on Louisiana's lakes and rivers this 4th of July, the Department of Health and Hospitals urges folks to be mindful of open wounds when swimming. The main culprit to keep in mind is a flesh eating bacteria.
State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry is warning
those out in salt or brackish water this weekend.
"If you have children with you and they have an open wound, check them before they get into the water to make sure that wound is covered to where water can't enter it because the bacteria is pretty prevalent in the summertime."
The bacteria invades the bloodstream and may cause a severe and potentially life threatening illness. Guidry also advises those with immune deficiencies to avoid eating shellfish because they can carry this bacteria. He says pay attention to wounds that look infected and seek medical help right away.
"Get that checked earlier rather than later because it is something we can do something about but preventing it is a lot easier than trying to treat it."
Guidry says it's important to get the word out to people to avoid exposure because that is the best way to prevent new illnesses. He says there have been four reported cases so far in Louisiana.
"A couple people have died, but not here in Louisiana. it's something we see every summer, between 5 and 15 cases."
Governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law a new measure which gives domestic violence victims more housing protection. Baton Rouge Senator Sharon Weston Broome sponsored the bill and says this law will help prevent further victimization of those being abused.
"Victims shouldn't have to choose between taking the abuse and having a safe place to live," Broome says.
The law allows domestic violence victims to break their lease to leave an abusive situation. Broome says it also ensures that victims will not be evicted because of their situation.
"Unfortunately, a large percentage of homeless women and children are homeless because they are victims of domestic violence and have had to leave their place of residence."
Landlords will also have the power to evict those the courts deem as abusers. Broome believes the law, which goes into effect August first, will give victims peace of mind over where they will live.
"An elevated sense of security, of relief when it comes to their worries and their concerns about their housing issues," Broome says.
Arnaudville's Bayou Teche Brewing is releasing a new beer for the 4th of July holiday. President Karlos Knott says the brew, named 31 Stout, was created in honor of 31 United States service members who lost their lives in the force mission in Afghanistan.
"We're brewing this beer to raise money for the families of the special forces guys who were killed in a mission, they were all Navy Seals and they were killed in a mission called Extortion 17. "
Grandson of multiple New Orleans French Quarter bars, Trey Monaghan, approached Knott with the idea of crafting a beer to benefit the soldiers' families. Knott says members of Extortion 17 were also a part of SEAL Team 6.
"What makes this particular mission, in addition to being such a tragic loss of life in a special operation. It's the same team that actually got Bin Laden, just three months later many members of the same team were shot down in Afghanistan."
Knott says 31 Stout will be released on Independence Day at the brewery, where a band and party will follow for anyone who wants to attend. The beer will be available at a few retailers in Louisiana and in select restaurants. He says 45 dollars from every case and keg purchased will go to families of service members lost in the mission.
"Which is quite a bit of money, because it's quite a few cases and kegs made. So we're excited to work with those guys and all the retailers in the state who are helping us raise that money."
Safety with fireworks during 4th of July celebrations should be a top priority. State Fire Marshall Butch Browning wants everyone to enjoy this holiday but take time to understand the precautions that come along with fireworks.
"Many of the injuries we will see after the season will deal with the handling of fireworks after they actually ignite. So that's our biggest problem."
Browning advises adults under the influence of alcohol and children to stay away from lighting firecrackers. He says make sure your surroundings are clear of flammable items and always keep a hose or bucket of water around in case the embers spark a fire.
"So you want to make sure that those things are wet down real well and there is no danger of them igniting."
Browning says never shoot a firearm into the air. He urges people to keep all weapons locked up and away from party-goers during the time of celebration.
"When you shoot a firearm and there is a bullet that's been shot, that round has been shot. When it goes up, it will come down. There has been documented injuries and death from these stray bullets. "
Amite Representative and gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards says, if elected, he has no intention to keep John White in place as Education Superintendent. In a statement, Edwards said "John White will never be superintendent on my watch."
Edwards says White lacks the credentials set forth in law to be the Superintendent of Education.
"He doesn't have the credentials to be an assistant principal at one of our elementary schools."
White has been the state's K-12 education leader since 2012. Although BESE chooses the Superintendent of Education, the governor typically has a lot of sway in that selection. Edwards thinks White's approach to education is flawed.
"I believe he is too insistent on having a Baton Rouge based bureaucratic approach to education rather than pushing more autonomy and control down to local school districts."
In a statement regarding Edwards' comments, White says politics don't belong in the classroom and cited the improvement of high school graduation rates and ACT scores during his tenure. Edwards believes there are more qualified candidates right here in Louisiana to head the state's education department.
"We can do better than John White. It's not anything personal, but we can do better than him. And as the next governor, I'll make sure we do that."
Officials in 5 Gulf States, including Louisiana, announce they have reached a settlement with BP for $18.7 billion dollars which resolves litigation over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell says this is the largest environmental settlement in history.
"Louisiana will receive a total of more than $6.8 billion dollars," said Caldwell.
Caldwell says this is the beginning of real restoration for Louisiana. He says $5 billion would be for natural resource damage, $1 billion for economic losses and $787 million would be paid in Clean Water penalties via the Restore Act.
Caldwell says this finally and fairly resolves all issues associated with the disaster.
He says this settlement creates immediate action in what would have otherwise likely taken years of litigation in the courts to provide needed restoration to the Gulf.
"As well as to rejuvenate certain areas of the state's economies that still suffers from the spill's impact."
Caldwell says the exact details of the agreement will be released in the coming weeks in the form of a consent decree.
Fishing begins today for the 67th Annual Tarpon Rodeo at Moran's Marina in Fourchon. The rodeo starts today and ends on the 4th. Rodeo Admiral Eddie Callais says this year there will be more that 15-thousand dollars worth of prizes.
"We have gift cards, as well as acrylic trophies for the multitude of categories of fish that are available."
Callais says the different categories of fish are inshore, offshore, blue water fish, ,spearfish, a kayak division, and a children's category . He says every child, ages 4 to 12, to purchase a ticket to the rodeo will receive a free fishing rod and reel.
"One of the other unique things about this event, the history with this rodeo, we've been very family friendly."
Callais says even if you aren't participating in the tournament, there is still a lot to do. He suggests coming out to the air conditioned tent to check out the scales and cook-off . Visit fourchontarponrodeo.com for more information.
"We do all of this, and the proceeds of our rodeo go to benefit local high school students in the form of scholarships. That's what we do all of this for, that's where the proceeds of this event go to."
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission announces their Independence Day "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign begins today. Deputy Director Ken Trull says their goal is to remove impaired drivers from the roadway and save lives.
He says during last year's 4th of July holiday period, there were 374 fatal and injury crashes in Louisiana.
"And that was 650 motorists injured and 10 were killed. Unfortunately, seven of the 10 fatalities were alcohol related."
Trull they have given overtime grants to law enforcement agencies across the state in order for them to increase patrols statewide.
"They'll be conduction more DWI checkpoints and more DWI patrols with the intent of getting the drunk drivers off the roadway."
He says if you are going to drink, you should always pick a designated driver. Trull says traffic safety is every motorist's responsibility and following a few rules can help you have a safe holiday weekend.
"Remember, don't drink and drive, always buckle up, and always stay focused on the task of driving."
The Louisiana Chemical Association filed a lawsuit challenging a measure passed in the last session which would impose a 1 percent sales tax on business utilities and natural gas. HCR 8 is a temporary suspension of a 1 cent sales tax exemption on services expected to hit chemical plants hardest.
LCA spokesman Rob Landry says it was passed unconstitutionally.
"We feel to pass a tax hike it requires a 2/3 vote in the House," said Landry. "There were two different votes taken on the floor and neither one got the magic number of 70."
The measure, which went into effect Wednesday, raises more than 100 million dollars and was enacted to balance the state's budget.
Landry says their plants depend heavily on purchased power and natural gas to generate steam, heat and electricity.
"If we find that in Louisiana we're taxed more heavily on that and become non-competitive it makes other states more attractive to our business," said Landry.
Landry says the Louisiana Constitution says tax measures must pass both houses by a two-thirds vote and this measure fell short of 70 "yeas" two times.
He says they made a major campaign to repeal utility taxes on natural gas in 2008 and since then the plants have seen major growth.
"And that's not the only reason but it is a big reason that you've seen such a resurgence and the growth of the industry in the state since then," said Landry. "We'd like to get back to making our business climate as warm as possible."