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Terrebonne DA says grand jury clears deputy in case of shooting death of 14-year-old

The Terrebonne Parish DA says a grand jury returned a “no true bill” in the case of a sheriff’s deputy shooting and killing of 14-year-old Cameron Tillman last September.
Jurors clear deputy Preston Norman who shot the boy in an abandoned house near Houma.
The Sheriff's Department says Deputy Preston Norman fired in self-defense after Tillman appeared to be holding a .45 caliber pistol.
During a press conference after the hearing, the DA showed a picture of the fake gun the teen was holding, and put it up against a real picture of the same type of pistol saying the images are nearly identical.
Relatives of others who were at the abandoned house with Tillman say he was not holding a weapon.
The FBI is also looking into this case. 
Carlos Lazarus is the First Assistant DA in Terrebonne.

"He fired his weapon in accordance with police procedures in order to prevent injury to himself or another."
Family members of Tillman assert the juvenile did not have a weapon but the sheriff's office say he was holding what looked exactly like a .45-caliber pistol. Lazarus says it was a pellet pistol.

"If you put that weapon side by side with a glock, you can not tell the difference."

The sheriff's office says Norman and other deputies were responding to a call of children brandishing guns at an abandoned house where the incident took place. Lazarus says he showed the jury pictures of the weapon the juvenile was holding and a real .45-caliber pistol and said they are identical.

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National Guard pilot killed in crash laid to rest Thursday

One of the four Louisiana National Guard soldiers, who was killed in a helicopter crash on March 10th near Pensacola, Florida, is laid to rest today in Alexandria. Chief Warrant Officer 4, David Strother, leaves behind a wife, a son, a stepdaugther and mother. 

Strother served in the National Guard from 1988 to 2007 and returned in 2009 and served until his death. He had over 24-hundred flight hours, including 700 combat hours. Louisiana National Guard Captain Kreg Stiles says Strother was born to serve our country and born to fly. 
"He's the kinda of guy that people want to be like, men that I know, want to be like him, Stiles said. "But we all know that we can never emulate who or what he was or ever duplicate that." 
Strother was a Black Hawk pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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Rapides Parish boy misses over two weeks of school because of his hair

An 11-year-old boy has missed more than two weeks of school because his hair is too long according to Rapides Parish School Board policy.  Ashton Bodiford's hair falls past the middle of his back.  

Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman, who is not involved in this case, says it's time for courts to recognize that students should be able to have a greater range of appearances.
"And if other people respond badly, then the problem is with them and not the student."

Esman says courts have ruled that schools are within their rights to have appearance policies like this.  Bodiford was told he could not return to school until his hair was cut to meet the requirements.  His parents say the rules are unfair and discriminatory and want a policy that is equal for both genders.  Esman says the 5th grader should not be penalized just because someone doesn't like the way he looks.

"In this case, you have a student whose hair is, by all accounts, neat and clean and not in his face.  And for him to be accused of being disruptive is, essentially, blaming the victim."

Policy requires male students to keep their hair no longer than chin length in the back and no longer than three inches on top.  Bodiford's parents hope to address the issue at next month's school board meeting.  Esman says, because of previous court rulings, the family has a hard road ahead.

"I wish this boy and his family luck because I think it's time that somebody stands up for the fact that these appearance codes can be very arbitrary and unfair." 

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Independence Bowl looking for title sponsor

Shreveport's Independence Bowl finds itself, once again, without a sponsor.  Duck Commander, who was the title sponsor of last year's game, will not return as the title sponsor this year.  

Mayor Ollie Tyler says she is determined to help the I-Bowl foundation find a new sponsor.
"We think that it is such an important event for our area and it helps us economically"

Last year's game was played under a letter of intent between Duck Commander and the Independence Bowl and not a contract.  This isn't the first time the bowl has had sponsorship issues.  The 2008 game was played without a sponsor.  Tyler says a hotel tax, which narrowly failed last year, would provide much needed, ongoing revenue for the Independence bowl.  She says the measure could be back on the ballot this fall.  Tyler feels the passage of this occupancy tax will be significant in landing a new title sponsor.

"This sends a message that we are willing to invest in our community so we can have the kind of attractions and the kinds of events that's going to be really important to develop this area." 

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Bill seeks to make it law that certain establishments which sell alcohol have a DD

A legislator wants to make it a law that a designated driver be present at certain locations that sell alcohol. Haughton Representative Henry Burns says he at least wants to get a dialogue started about the importance of having someone present who hasn't been drinking at establishments which sell alcohol.

"I don't have any unfair expectations here, but idealistically it's a good thought and we'll see if it's doable or not," said Burns.

Burns is still working on the final details, but believes that it should be illegal to sell alcohol to a designated driver. He says he's been a DD before and knows first hand that sometimes libations get a little out of hand.

"You know through no fault of their the evening carries on then next thing you know someone has consumed too much," said Burns. "I'm not trying to get into other people's business but I'm very concerned about other people's safety."

Burns says HB 132 defines a "designated driver" and authorizes them to be the DD for more than one person at any given time. He says at the very least the proposal would get a conversation started.

"It might even evolve into a study or could go forward," said Burns. "But this will give us the chance to underscore the importance of not driving under the influence."

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Some of the M6 at Camp Minden in danger of "auto-igniting"

A leak in one of the 97 igloos storing the 16 millions pounds of M6 propellant at Camp Minden in Webster Parish has resulted in the recommendation of the emergency destruction of its contents.  Minden Representative Gene Reynolds says the moisture build up creates a chemical reaction the could cause the M6 to "auto-ignite".

"The way I understand it, right now, from talking to the EPA and different ones, that they would take that particular igloo, take the material out, and take it off-site and dispose of it somewhere else."

Reynolds says, as he understands it, this is an emergency procedure and the material will be removed from the igloo and transported somewhere else for disposal.  As far as the disposal of the remaining M6, Reynolds says the evaluation team, lead by the Louisiana National Guard, is still reviewing the bids that were submitted.

"I'm expecting an announcement on the method any day now.  I was told that it would take 10 to 14 days to make that decision."

Reynolds says he expects an announcement on the method of disposal of the propellant any day now.   He says the evaluation team has looked at many different methods other than an open burn.

"I really believe that the open burn is off the table, unless it's really just an extreme emergency.  I really believe we've gotten past that and we'll have a good solution going forward." 

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Distractions worse than thought for teen drivers

An American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety study shows that distraction in teen crashes is worse than previously thought.  The study found that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.  

AAA spokesman Don Redman says the two leading causes of distraction are other passengers and cell phones.
"Just those two issues alone, the cell phone use and interacting with another passenger, account for almost 25-percent of all the crashes involving teen drivers."

Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders.  Redman says teen drivers and cell phones have proven to be a more dangerous combination than anyone realized.

"Out of the last six seconds of that crash, four seconds are spent looking down at their device.  In a lot of cases they never even apply the brakes or even touch the steering wheel when they plow into someone."

Redman says parents should sit down with their teen drivers and talk about the dangers of using their cell phones while behind the wheel.  He also suggests that parents restrict the number of passengers their teen drivers are allowed to drive around.

"Teenagers are the biggest distraction for teenage drivers.  So you definitely want, as a parent of a teenager, to limit teenage passengers in the vehicle." 

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Seth Fontenot found guilty of manslaughter, not first-degree murder

Fontenot was on trial for the shooting death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault and the injuring of two others. The defendant claimed he fired to scare the teens who he thought were breaking into his truck. The prosecution argued the shooting was intentional and denied the victims were up to no good. 

A first-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence. But the sentencing of manslaughter is 0-40 years. Fontenot was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated battery.

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$13,000 reward offered for information on live goat beheading

The Louisiana SPCA is offering a reward of 13,000 dollars for information about a gruesome 12-second video of five men beheading a goat. CEO Anna Zorilla says the men in the video are laughing and cheering as the beheading went on. 

"What the 12 seconds show is a pretty graphic video of a group of young men and they have this goat, then they behead the goat," said Zorilla.

Zorilla says the graphic video shows the culprits standing in a circle around the plastic swimming pool, with a string tied around the goat's neck and then one of the men beheads the goat with a sword.

"What's even more shocking is the reaction of the young men who are watching as they are laughing and joking and taking pictures and video," Zorilla says.

Zorilla says the video was sent to the SPCA from a New Orleans University police officer, but they are not sure if the beheading actually occurred in the Crescent City or Louisiana.

"We're hoping somebody is able to come forward and share with us possibly another video so we can get to the bottom of this," said Zorilla.

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Strawberry Festival/Kiwanis apologize for 2015 poster and agree not to sell it at the event

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Strawberry Festival Board and the Kiwanis Club of Ponchatoula have both apologized for the controversial 2015 poster and said they will not sell it in public. A meeting was held this morning with the NAACP and other concerned leaders who felt this year's festival poster was racist.

Pontchatoula Councilman Melvin Toomer was at that meeting.

"We had healthy discussion about it," said Toomer. "Then the Strawberry Festival Board and the Kiwanis Organization agreed to make a public apology which has been done."

Toomer says the Kiwanis Club Organization, which is responsible for the poster, will not be selling it at the festival April 10th-12th -- but they will continue to distribute it before that time.

The club board had originally said they would not stop selling the poster but Toomer says the compromise all parties reached today made both sides happy.

"Once both sides vented it out we came to the resolution that this would be better for everybody," said Toomer.

The civil rights organization also called on both boards to have a more diverse membership which they agreed to make an effort to do. 

Toomer says they didn't mind that the club would continue to sell the poster before the festival because that's "inside their house" which is less offensive than it being sold at the event.

"When you come outside your home in the public, that's what offends people," said Toomer. "But you can walk around your house nude, that's your house."

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BR Police are describing a murder of a 28-year-old man as a vigilante killing

Baton Rouge Police are looking for 31-year-old Yovanni Anibal Ramos-Salazar for the killing of a 28-year-old man who was accused of rape. Authorities say it was a vigilante killing. Corporal Don Coppola says the man who was fatally shot has been identified as 28-year-old Joel Guevara.

"Detectives believe that Salazar shot and killed Guevara after learning that he had raped one of his family members," Coppola said.
Family members of Guevara say the rape allegations against him are false, but Coppola says they were looking to arrest him for an alleged rape that took place in January. 
"Our sex crimes investigators recently issued a warrant on him for the charge of forcible rape and stalking," Coppola said.
Ramos-Salazar was last seen driving a silver 2000 Toyota Tundra pickup with a Louisiana license plate X0706455. The shooting occurred outside of a Baton Rouge apartment complex on Sunday 

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Several Beau Chene High School student suspended in grade changing scheme

A total of 46 Beau Chene High School Students have been suspended after an investigation into a student who is accused of changing their grades.  St. Landry school superintendent Edward Brown says a student was able to gain access to a web-based grading computer program, after obtaining a teacher's password.

"And he did change several students' grades.  Some of the students asked for him to change the grades.  Some of the students didn't have knowledge, at the time, of the grade changing."

It's reported that the accused student would charge money or favors in exchange for changing grades.  Brown says some students didn't know their grades were being altered.  He says the scheme began unraveling after one pupil became suspicious.

"One student that got his grade changed knew something was wrong.  Of course, kids begin to talk about it and once the principal got word he contacted central office."

Brown says the suspensions vary in length based on the student's involvement, but no specifics were given.  He says he's confident they've caught all involved, but there's no way to be certain.  Brown says they'll use this situation to teach students a lesson that reaches far beyond the classroom.

"We want to get these kids ready for life and this is not a way that you want to go through life, trying to go around things or trying to beat the system." 

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Bankrate.com ranks Louisiana as the 5th worst state to retire

The financial planning website Bankrate.com lists Louisiana as the fifth worst place to retire. Bankrate's research analyst Chris Kahn says Louisiana scores low when it comes to its crimerate, health care services and weather. 

"It is very warm in Louisiana, but it's also very humid, that puts you down in our rankings," Kahn said.
Kahn says retirees in Louisiana do not face a huge tax burden, which is good, but the state has the second highest crime rate in the nation, which does NOT make the bayou state a dream retirement spot. 
"If you look at the violent property crimes by the FBI in Louisiana, on the whole it's one of the highest in the country," Kahn said.
Kahn says Louisiana also performed poorly in their study when it comes to well-being, which looks at how satisfied senior citizens are with their surroundings. 

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Survey shows Louisianians want the budget deficit resolved through spending cuts and tax hikes

The 2015 Louisiana Survey reveals that 83-percent of Louisianians want the state's budget deficit to be resolved through a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes.  LSU¬ís Public Policy Research Lab Director Michael Henderson says people would prefer one over the other.

"Now I should say, the preference, even among that, is to emphasize spending cuts even more than tax hikes"

Of those preferring a combination, 59-percent would rather see the the focus mostly on the side of spending cuts.  The way the Louisiana Constitution is written, higher education and health care will take the brunt of budget cuts.  Henderson says that is not what the public wants.

"They don't want less spent on health care and higher education and K-12 and transportation.  They actually want more spent on that."

Henderson says people actually want more money spent in areas of education, health care, and transportation, which puts policy makers in a bind.  When it comes to raising revenue, Henderson says the public seems to behind a hike in the so-called "sin taxes":  alcohol, tobacco, and gaming.

"There's not any significant support for raising sales taxes or income taxes or even mineral taxes and fees." 

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NPSO: Two elephants were used to keep an 18-wheeler from overturning on I-49

The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's office says they received a call Tuesday morning about an 18-wheeler stuck in the mud along I-49 near the Powhaten exit.
When deputies arrived, they were surprised to see two elephants on the side of the leaning 18-wheeler, making sure that the truck didn't tip over.

The elephants were on the truck that had left New Orleans, headed to perform at a circus in Dallas, when the truck got stuck after the driver pulled on the edge of the soft shoulder.  
"They leaned against the 18-wheeler for approximately 10-15 minutes," Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's office Captain Tony Moran. "The animals didn't appear to be abused."   
A local wrecker service was used to pull the truck out of the mud. No citations were issued.  

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Former school board candidate accused of sexually assaulting juvenile

Michelle Southern reporting.
A former school board candidate in south Louisiana has been charged with felony sexual battery of a 12-year-old girl whom he used to coach basketball.
(pictured: Philip Ziegler campaign photo) 

Lawrence McLeary with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's office says the juvenile told her doctor that she was assaulted by 34-year-old Philip Ziegler about a year and a half ago.

"Once the doctor was made aware of it he told the victim's mother and she called us to report it," said McLeary.

McLeary says the allegation is that Ziegler had come over to the victim's house for a bonfire and ended up staying the night. He says the juvenile contends that at some point in the night, the suspect came to her room.

"Then he started giving her instructions to get out of bed and she did because he was an adult and she was confused," said McLeary. "At that point he began to touch her inappropriately."

Ziegler ran for a school board office in Central in the November 4th, 2014 election but did not win.

According to court documents, the victim claims she had to hit Ziegler several times with a baseball bat in order to stop his advances before the suspect walked out of her room saying, "This isn't worth it."

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Louisiana Tuberculosis rate down by more than half in 4 years

The Department of Health and Hospitals says Louisiana has cut the rate of Tuberculosis cases by more than half from 2010 to 2014. DHH TB Control Program Director Charles DeGraw says that puts us 12 percent below the national case rate.

"We haven't been there since 2000 and we were not but maybe a percentage point less," said DeGraw.

DeGraw credits the TB Control Program for its successful implementation of new tools which have lowers the instance of the disease and working toward the ultimate eradication of Tuberculosis in Louisiana. He says this is great news.

"We're the only state that had a significant reduction in case rate over the last four years," said DeGraw."I don't know anyone who's had a 59 percent reduction over that period of time."

DeGraw says this also helps because doctors no longer have to treat problem cases which makes the other end of treatment and follow up and completion of treatment easier to do. He says they also reduced the percentage of TB cases with HIV infection from 10% in 2010 to 4 percent in 2014.

"So those two factors have really improved our case follow up and management," said DeGraw. "It's also vastly improved the health of those who have Tuberculosis."

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DED releases study on film tax credit program

A study examining the state's film tax credit program finds that it created nearly 13-thousand jobs in Louisiana, but cost the state 171-million dollars last fiscal year. LSU Economist Loren Scott conducted the study for the state department of economic development and he says the film tax credit program costs more than it brings in.

 "Typically you'd hope you have a tax credit program, like a horizontal tax exemption we have, that actually brings in more money than it takes out the treasury, that's not the case with our film industry," Scott said. 
Reforming the state's film tax credit program is expected to be big topic in the upcoming legislative session. Some lawmakers will point to the number of jobs it has created, but Scott says is it worth the 171-million dollar negative impact on the budget. 
"You could have been using that money to support other state spending, which created jobs as well," Scott said.
Scott says even though the state's film tax credit program produced nearly 13-thousand jobs last year, that doesn't mean the jobs produced actually benefited Louisiana. 
"Of course, we know that when Tom Cruise comes here and shoots a film, he doesn't live here, he's going to go off to California and that's where most of that money is going to be spent," Scott said.  

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Contract awarded to build new VA clinic in Lafayette

Republican Congressman Charles Boustany announces that a contract has been awarded to build a new VA clinic in Lafayette.  Last year, Boustany passed legislation authorizing the construction of new clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles.  

Boustany says this is a great day for Lafayette veterans.
"After years of waiting, stalled contracts, and multiple fights to get authorization through Congress, today I'm pleased that construction will finally begin on a community-based out-patient clinic that is long overdue."

The Lafayette clinic will be built on Ambassador Caffery Parkway and is expected to be completed 18 months after construction begins.  Boustany says this clinic is something veterans in the Acadiana region have been waiting too long for.

"Our veterans have earned a world-class standard of care through their service.  A standard that will be provided with the construction of this clinic."

However, Boustany says there is still no word from the VA on the construction of a new clinic in Lake Charles.  He says the VA is dragging its feet on this and that's not acceptable.

"There's just no excuse for this agency, which has now had over six months to review contract proposals, not to get the ball rolling on construction." 

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Winnsboro woman gets 25 years after causing her daughter to fall out of a car

A Franklin Parish woman was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to second degree cruelty to a juvenile after causing her 20-month-old daughter to fall out of her moving car last June.  District Attorney Mack Lancaster says he's satisfied with the sentence handed down to 24-year-old LaSasha Allen of Winnsboro.

"To risk the life of your own child, I think 25 years was a very good sentence and the judge did a very good job considering all the factors involved and gave her, like I said, the appropriate sentence."

The child sustained multiple injuries, including a broken arm and skull fracture.  Lancaster says there is no doubt in his mind that Allen intentionally tried to hurt her daughter.

"Unbuckled the seat belt, opened the door as she rounded a curve going about 30 miles-per-hour, and had the child fall out."

Lancaster says Allen has shown no remorse for what she did to her daughter.

"Even at the sentencing, her lawyer did make an apology, but she stood somewhat silently." 

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