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8th grader wants new dress code in Rapides Parish

Michelle Southern reporting.
An 8th grade student from Buckeye High School in Deville has started an online petition to change the uniform policy in Rapides Parish. Currently they are essentially only allowed to wear navy or khaki bottoms and white collared shirts. 14-year-old Brandon Richardson feels the current dress code is far too restrictive. (photo provided by Richardson)


"Students aren't liking them, they aren't really affordable --- safety and bullying issues still exist," said Richardson.

The change.org petition states that students should not be told what to wear everyday because they are not able to express themselves. 

School leaders assert the current policy exists so that students can be easily identified on field trips.

But Richardson feels if everyone looks alike it could cause problems in crisis situations.

"It's very hard to identify students at a school if they all look the same," says Richardson. "That could potentially be harmful to the students and people that are at the school."

Others who support the dress code that's in place say it puts all students on level playing fields, but Richardson says when it comes to clothing, bullying still exists with uniforms. 

He says they would like to see the policy changed to one more similar to Rapides' current "out of uniform" day rules.

"They would be appropriate length and the clothes would be appropriate," says Richardson. "But you'd also have the freedom to express yourself and how you feel about what you wear."




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Leger's proposal would use oil spill money to fund higher ed

A proposal to be sponsored by New Orleans Representative Walt Leger would use Gulf oil spill money for possible long-term financing for Louisiana colleges.  Leger feels a trust fund should be set up for colleges from recovery money received from the 2010 disaster.


"And that we then use the interest earned off of that trust fund to be a baseline of funding for higher education."

The state is expected to receive billions of dollars from BP to pay for economic damage caused by the spill.  Legislators have already dedicated the first $1 billion of that money.  Leger's proposal would target money above that.  He says his proposal would fund higher education moving forward.

"And while that may not assist us in meeting our obligation to this year's budget, we think that it can be very helpful in future budgets to have this source of funding in place."

The state Board of Regents have thrown their support behind Leger's proposal.  Leger says there is no time table on when the BP issue will be resolved, but is confident that the state will be successful.

"I think we ought to do something smart with the money and make sure that it goes to investing in our future and investing in our students." 



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Tigers lose a wild series to Kentucky

When the polls come out later today, it's likely the LSU Tigers will no longer be ranked number one after a wild series to the Wildcats of Kenutcky. LSU could not hold on to a three-run lead in the eighth and ended up losing to Kentucky 12-10 in 11 innings yesterday. Shortstop Alex Bregman says LSU didn't get a lot of baseball fortune during the three-game series.


"It was a tricky weekend, all around, I think a lot of guys squared it up right at people" Bregram said. "But we didn't play well enough down the stretch to win, give them a lot of credit, they battled back. Not our best baseball weekend."
 
LSU had a 10-9 lead in the ninth inning, but with two outs, Wildcasts pinch hitter Riley Mahan hit an inside the park home run, when left fielder Jared Foster dove for his liner, missed it and then Bregman slipped and fell while retrieving the baseball.
 
"You saw one of the more bizarre plays that you'll ever see," Coach Paul Mainieri said.
 
It's the first weekend series the Tigers have lost this year as they fall to 5-and-4 in SEC play. Mainieri says they had a chance to win all three games,if not for some strange plays. 
 
"The two games we lost, you think about, we got the game winning hit, the game is over, and it hit our baserunner. And the other one, we are one out from winning, and the guy gets an inside the park home run. What's the odds of seeing those two things happen, especially in one weekend. I don't know if I've seen it in 30 years." 
 
 
 
 



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Ag and Forestry conducts Emerald Ash Borer trap surveys

The state department of agriculture and forestry is setting out traps to track the invasive asian bug called the Emerald Ash Borer. The beetle was discovered recently in Webster Parish and it kills ash trees. Commissioner Mike Strain says the traps will be placed in high risk areas along the interstate, welcome centers and the Mississippi River Delta.


'If you see these hanging, please don't touch them, please leave them alone," Strain said. "We are trying to delineate the exact area where the Emerald Ash Borer is."
 
Strain says the beetle, which is difficult to eradicate, is often transported into an area by infested firewood.
 
"So we say burn it where you buy it," Strain said. "Please don't move firewood more than 10 miles from where you buy it."
 
Strain says they want to keep this insect from attacking the thousands of Ash trees in the Atchafalaya Basin, the Mississippi River delta and urban areas as well.
 



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LWC: Private sector adds 26,000 jobs over the last year

The Louisiana Workforce Commission says Louisiana private employers have added 26,000 jobs over the year based on February employment numbers. The commission's executive director Curt Eysink says this type of growth should continue.


"If we look at our forecast which we are developing now, our long term forecast still calls for more growth in the next 10 years, then we had in the past 10 years," Eysink said. 
 
The unemployment rate for February was 6.7%, but it's the second straight month it has declined. Eysink says the unemployment rate rose during the second half of 2014 as the state saw a large increase in people looking for jobs. 
 
"So a lot of those people entered the workforce in that rapid growth period are now finding work," Eysink said.
 
Eysink credits the job growth to a growing chemical industry in Louisiana. 
 
"We still continue to see really strong growth in southwest Louisiana with those huge projects out there. We're seeing growth along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans."  



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LSU Alumni Hall of Distinction inductees include LoLo Jones, Patrick Mulhearn, Herb Vincent

Michelle Southern reporting. 
The 2015 LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction took place Friday night and among this year's inductees are track Olympian Lolo Jones and SEC Associate Commissioner of Communications Herb Vincent.


Celtic Studios Executive Director Patrick Mulhearn will also be inducted and he says his life continues to revolve around LSU.
 
"I'm someone who purposely got married outside of football season and sort-of timed having my kids outside of football season," said Mulhearn. "I'm slightly obsessed with LSU."

The Alumni Association says Hall of Distinction inductees are those who have distinguished themselves through their careers, their personal civic accomplishments and their loyalty to their alma mater. 

Mulhearn, who is originally from Mississippi and graduated from LSU grad school in 2000, says LSU is the reason he fell in love with Louisiana.

"They adopted me and I adopted it," said Mulhearn. "I'm not going anywhere and I can't say enough about what the education has done for me."

Vincent has worked as LSU's Sports Information Director and former Associate Athletic Director. He's worked under Tiger football coaches including Mike Archer, Curley Hallman, Gerry DiNardo, Nick Saban and Les miles.

Vincent doesn't have anything bad to say about Saban as it was always important to the now Alabama coach to keep LSU traditions alive.

"Changing the helmet or changing the uniform, he stuck by all that," said Vincent. "I thought of that when I saw CBS named LSU's helmet the best in college football. I think it really is and I remember having that conversation with Saban."

Also being inducted this year is Atlantic Company of America President David Suarez and VP of Research of at the University of Texas John Tinsley Oden. Vincent says he didn't believe it when he got the call.

"To see people like that and to be part of that class is humbling and a real honor."
 
 




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Sasol breaks ground near Westlake

Sasol has broken ground on its ethane cracker and derivatives mega project near Westlake.  The South African-based company expects the facility to be in operation in 2018.  Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Nic Hunter says they are excited that this project is finally underway.


"What we witnessed today was the ground breaking of not only one of the largest single-company investments in the state of Louisiana, but one of the largest industrial investments in the country."

By the time the project is complete, Sasol's investment will total almost $9 billion.  Hunter says the construction of this project will have an sudden impact on the economy in southwest Louisiana.

"It means thousands of construction jobs.  It means thousands of people coming here and spending their dollars here."

The project will create more than 5,000 construction jobs and over 500 full-time positions.  Hunter feels Sasol's commitment to southwest Louisiana puts the area in a great position for future growth.

"Our petro-chemical industry, with the investments from companies like Sasol and others, the amount of jobs, the amount of infrastructure we're bringing here:  keep your eye on southwest Louisiana.  Because we have some really great things coming up." 



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Rayne man wanted for crawfish theft in Acadia Parish

The Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office has issued an arrest warrant for a Rayne man accused of stealing crawfish from a crawfish plant.  Spokeswoman Maxine Trahan says a dock worker called authorities after witnessing the theft.


"This individual, who has been identified as Cary Gordon Bastain, arrived and loaded six crawfish sacks into the back of the white Camaro that he was driving."

She says Bastain fled the scene driving at speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour toward Vermillion and Lafayette parishes.  He faces charges of simple burglary, reckless operation, and aggravated flight from an officer.  Bastian is still at large and Trahan says they're asking for the public's help bringing him in.

"Anyone who may know of his whereabouts, we're asking that you contact the sheriff's office, Wildlife and Fisheries, or even the Vermillion Parish Sheriff's Office so that we can arrest him for the charges that he's being charged." 



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LSU fraternity shut down

LSU's Acacia fraternity has been closed after a school investigation determined the group hazed new members last fall.  The university reports it confirmed several Student Code violations, including forced alcohol consumption,physical violence, and several acts of theft during a trip to Auburn last fall.  
 
The school also found the fraternity did not allow new members to eat the week of initiation and they were required to participate in activities that interfered with academic and psychological well-being.  In a statement, LSU President F. King Alexander said hazing will not be tolerated and suspended the fraternity until at least 2018.  Acacia's national headquarters agrees with LSU's decision to dissolve the chapter.



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Census expert says Louisiana needs to see more growth

Demographer Elliot Stonecipher says Louisiana could be in jeopardy of losing another Congressional seat if the state doesn't see more growth in population. Stonecipher is making that statement based on new Census figures, which shows the state's population has only increased two-point-six percent since 2010.


"That's not near the kind of population growth that we need on an annually basis to feel certain that we're not going to be behind the 8 ball again when the next census happens," said Stonecipher.

Louisiana saw it's Congressional delegation shrink from seven to six members as a result of the 2010 Census. Stonecipher says the data suggests to him that Louisiana still has an out-migration problem.

"Your out-migration is eating up the margin that everybody gets from births over deaths," says Stonecipher. "That's when the alarms start going off and I think that's what we're all getting really nervous about."

East Baton Rouge Parish remains the most populated parish in the state. The three fastest growing parishes in the state since 2010 are Ascension, Orleans and St. Bernard.

Stonecipher says from 2013-14 Orleans Parish grew one-point-four percent.

"We expect it to plateau somewhere here soon," said Stonecipher. "And of course St. Bernard can't have too many more of these very, very positive years."
 
 




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Turkey season begins Saturday

Turkey season opens Saturday and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries predicts a bumper crop for hunters.  Wild Turkey and Resident Small Game Leader, Jimmy Stafford, says there should be some carryover this season after bad weather lead to a poor hunting last year.


"Last year we had a pretty low reporting rate and pretty low number of birds harvested so we do expect that number to go up some."

This year's season is coming a few days later than normal, which Stafford says should move the birds closer to their peak of gobbling.  Although more turkeys are expected to be harvested this season, Stafford says Mother Nature is always a factor.

"It's hard to predict what the weather be throughout the season, but if the weather holds consistent and we get a lot of sunshiny weekends we think that harvest will be significantly improved."

He says the Louisiana turkey population is scattered, but most gobblers can be found in the western or north-central part of the state.  Stafford says if you're looking to bag a turkey on opening day, he's got a tip on where to look.

"Our three best parishes are Vernon Parish, Claiborne Parish, and Union Parish.  Those are our top three as far as harvest go." 



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Anti-Texting-and-Driving app developed in LaPlace

Michelle Southern reporting.
A man from LaPlace has developed an app to keep teenagers from texting and driving. Mike Watson says Text Guardian is tied to the GPS device on cellular devices and parents can set to a certain speed.


"At 10, 15, 20, 25 miles per hour, the phone becomes deactivated," said Watson.

Watson says if somebody tries to call or text a teen while Text Guardian is activated, they will get a message back right away saying that the person will get back to you when it is safe to do so.

He says it's completely free and the difference between this and some other anti-driving-and-texting apps is that Text Guardian can not be removed.

"If they do try to delete it, the parent gets an immediate text back that says the app has been attempted to be manipulated," said Watson.

Watson says once the phone reaches the pre-set speed, all that works is 911, a few contacts and the navigation system.

He is the owner of Jim's Body Shop and came up with the idea of creating an app like this after dealing with so many vehicles that had been in serious crashes involving teenagers who were texting and driving.

"It bothered me a lot," said Watson. "I spoke to my wife and realized there was nothing that could fix it. I'm not a tech guy, I'm a body shop guy but I set out to do something about it."
 
 



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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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