Around 11:00 a.m. today, Louisiana State Police Troop G responded to a one-vehicle crash on LA 1, about 1 mile south of US 84 that claimed the life of a Coushatta man.
The preliminary investigation revealed a 2017 Peterbilt dump truck driven by 61-year-old Dennis R. Williams of Coushatta was traveling south on LA 1, about one mile south of US 84 in Red River Parish. Due to suspected tire failure, the loaded dump truck ran off the road and overturned.
Williams was ejected during the crash. He sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Red River Parish Coroner’s Office. Impairment is not suspected. The crash remains under investigation. A toxicology sample was obtained and will be submitted for analysis.
Louisiana State Troopers wish to remind motorists that while not all crashes are survivable, statistics show that the chances of surviving a crash rise significantly when properly restrained. In 2017, Troop G has investigated 28 crashes resulting in 32 deaths.
It was a year to remember in Red River Parish. In a quiet sleepy community where folks will say not much ever happens, it’s been one heck of a year. There were changes all over the place.
This was the first year for the Red River Parish Journal. Our first issue was February 7th. In the first issue we reported on a nail-biter finish as the Lady Bulldogs won another match on their way to the playoffs, negotiations were underway to find a buyer for Fred’s Pharmacy, and The Journal introduced you to Red River’s youngest mechanic.
Here is a look back at some of the events that took place in 2017.
Back in the spring the Red River Parish School Board announced that they were seeking a new head football coach for the Red River Bulldogs. The search lasted a month or so before a hometown man was selected.
Scott Hale, who had recently coached in Texas, was named new Bulldog head coach. He was introduced to the community at the school gym. Details were published in The Journal’s May 5th edition.
Hale told the crowd that he was pleased to have been selected and was glad to be back in Coushatta. He went to work with the team and lead practices throughout the summer.
Then in July Hale suddenly turned in his resignation to the school board office. Superintendent Alison Hughes was on vacation with her family at the time. The Journal contacted her and she told us that John Bachman had been hired.
Hughes said, “We are very excited that John Bachman is our new head coach.” Bachman had been considered for the head coaching job at the time Scott Hale was selected as head coach. Hughes said, “It was an almost exact tie, and that is why we recruited him for the Assistant Coach position after we hired Scott Hale.” She added, “He has a wealth of experience and a wealth of success and I think we are going to be just fine.”
Bachman met with the team and took over the program just a short time before the first scrimmage in August.
Followers of local sports know how the story went. The Bulldogs lost only one district game (to Many). During the season John Bachman racked up his 100th win as a head coach and the Bulldogs kept winning. They won the first and second round of the playoffs before a season ending defeat by Ferriday.
In December, the school board recognized the football team’s efforts and accomplishments this past season. Coaches and team members were saluted during the school board meeting. It was noted that this had been the first time a Red River High School football team had made it this far in the playoffs. The former Coushatta High Choctaws had won the state championship back in 1992.
On April 26th The Journal reported on two deaths in an auto accident and the passing of a 10 year old boy that shook the community. Here is that report.
The community is uniting in support of several families who suffered loss this past week. Ten-year-old Sheldon “SJ” Hallman passed away Saturday morning. A few hours later his cousin was injured and two other men were killed in a traffic accident on the Red Oak Road.
Hallman was injured four years ago while on a school outing to the State Fair in Shreveport. A ride malfunction trapped the boy. John Hallman, the boy’s grandfather, says the Wake will be Friday evening at Will of God Church and the funeral will be at noon Saturday in the gym of the old Elementary School on East Carroll Street.
Details of the auto accident that injured one person and claimed two lives were furnished to the Journal by State Police Troop G:
On Saturday, April 22, 2017, at 11:10 a.m., Louisiana State Police Troop G responded to one vehicle crash on Louisiana Highway 480 just south of US Highway 84 that claimed the lives of two people and left one severely injured.
The preliminary investigation revealed a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria operated by 20-year-old Cedric Lewis of Coushatta was traveling north on LA 480. He failed to negotiate a curve, exited the left side of the roadway, overturned, and struck a large group of trees.
Lewis as well as his passengers, 43-year-old Ronnie Allen of Coushatta and 19-year-old Tyquinton Winn also of Coushatta was not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. Lewis sustained serious injuries during the crash and was transported to University Health in Shreveport for treatment. Allen and Winn were partially ejected during the crash and sustained fatal injuries. Both Allen and Winn were pronounced dead at the scene by the Red River Parish Coroner.
State police reported that speed and restraint use are factors in this crash, but impairment is not suspected.
Storms moved through Red River Parish on Sunday May 28th. There was widespread damage, including one person killed when a tree fell through her home.
From The Journal’s Special Report of May 29th: The victim was identified by family members as Clara Suggs. She was asleep on the couch in the living room of her mobile home on Esparanza Road when a large tree fell across it. Suggs’ mother Ellen Wood was in a bedroom of the home. She is reported to have suffered only a few scratches, according to family members. Suggs died at the scene. Her dog Pee Wee also perished in the house.
Sunrise found power out throughout Red River Parish. There was widespread damage including buildings blown over, signs down, many trees uprooted, and power lines down. Utilities have dispatched crews however damage is reported widespread throughout the northwest part of the state. Few businesses are open on generator power. Therefore gasoline is difficult to find. Stations in Coushatta and Armistead are closed.
In mid August a storm, thought by local residents to be a tornado, blew through the Westdale community on Highway One. From the Journal’s August 16th edition is this account:
Julia Pennington and her brother John Dixon are thankful for their lives following a weekend storm that hit at Westdale. They live on Bundrick Road, just off Highway 1 in north Red River Parish.
John Dixon told the Journal, “It was going too fast. A shower came up. I didn’t see other clouds. I was watching TV in the living room when the porch blew off first.” Dixon went on to explain, “Then the roof came off. Everything in the house was ruined by the water after the roof blew off.” Dixon’s roof landed in the yard next to the house. His porch blew from the east side of his house, over the house and over his sister’s house next door and landed to the west of her house.
Julia Pennington told the Journal. “The way a tree was damaged by the house, it was nothing but a tornado.” Pennington said there was steady lightning, some hail, and it was raining heavily. She added, “There was no warning. All at once we (Pennington and her daughter) heard a whoof! My daughter and I got in a closet and hit the floor. We were trying to pull a mattress over us but by then it was gone” Pennington’s mobile home suffered roof damage and the wind shifted it off the support blocks in the front.
The Red River Parish Fire Department’s substation at Westdale was damaged by the storm. And there was some damage to the farm located across Highway 1 at Bundrick Road.
Deputy Red River Fire Chief Mike Robinson said the doors were blown inward, then out and off. He said the north wall of the fire station was blown out by the storm this past weekend. Robinson told the Journal that the station is not operational and will be out of service until repairs are made. He also said that no dollar damage estimate is available yet.
Across Highway 1 from the Westdale fire station trees were downed and three large grain bins were upended by the storm. There was minor damage to the main farm office. A farmer, who asked not to be identified, said the wind gage on the property recorded winds of 102 miles an hour.
The Journal contacted Meteorologist Travis Washington at the National Weather Service office in Shreveport. Washington said their records of the storm are that it was a severe thunderstorm with high winds in the 45 to 60 miles per hour range. He said NWS had no report of winds reaching 100 plus.
Hurricane Harvey blew through Red River Parish in late August. Wind and rain was what Hurricane or Tropical Storm Harvey brought. The storm also brought higher gas prices blamed on the shutdown of a refinery in the Houston area where damage and flooding was much more extensive.
The local National Guard unit, C-Troop of the 108th Cav was called to active duty. Commander Captain Chad Ford told the Journal in our August 29th issue that they were on standby in the event they were needed for flood relief in south Louisiana.
The troops readied their equipment, including high wheeled vehicles that can go through flood water. They also practiced operating their inflatable boats on an area lake in the event they were needed. As it turned out the local guard unit was not needed this time and members were allowed to return home.
In 2017 the Riverdale Academy Football team had a perfect record in district play. It is a feat never achieved before by the Rebels.
Victory grew out of defeat in the first game of the season against Humphreys. Coach Jared Smelser said, “Now Riverdale is seeded number two and will enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs.” It did not look good for the Rebels back on August 18th with that loss to Humphreys. Things looked even worse with an injury to running back Payton Thornton the next week that threatened to end his year.
By the next week, August 25th, the team pulled together and defeated Franklin Academy 36 to 22. They never looked back, racking up an impressive 7-0 district record and an overall record of 8 wins and only one loss.
The first playoff game was played at the school on November 3rd. The opponent was North Sunflower Academy. It was a low scoring, tightly fought match that went down to the wire. Final score was Riverdale14, North Sunflower 12. The Rebels moved on to the second round of district play.
To advance, Riverdale would have to get by Briarfield Academy. They won their district game against Briarfield, but it was a tough battle. The teams met in the second round of the playoffs on November 10th and Briarfield Academy prevailed. Riverdale’s record setting season came to a close.
“Wow!” exclaimed School Superintendent Alison Hughes, “We never expected the turnout. We’re so appreciative of the community coming together to support it.” Hughes overlooked an overflowing crowd of parish residents filling the Red River High Gym on Monday afternoon, July 31st.
The occasion was the first Back To School Bash held for public school students and parents in the parish. It was a one-stop event that supplied students with uniforms, backpacks packed with school supplies, free hot dogs and haircuts, and a big bounce castle. The line formed early at the gym doors and stretched all the way behind the high school building.
United Way gave 1,500 backpacks full of needed supplies to students attending Red River public schools. Their summary of the event said, “The Bash is the largest program that offers school supplies to students in the parish. According to the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) Study of Financial Hardship, 40 percent of that population (the parish) is struggling to afford basic needs. The annual Back to School Bash is helping to fight and reverse this statistic.”
Jennifer Martin, Vice President of Resource Development at UWNWLA, “Of all ten parishes United Way serves, research has shown that Red River Parish has the highest need for these resources.”
Superintendent Hughes said, “Over 1,500 people signed in to participate. I want to thank our corporate sponsors like the Bank of Coushatta and Nichols: Rivertown Market supplied the food and the sheriff brought his grill and did the cooking; and local barbers and beauticians came to give the kids free haircuts. There were many businesses and individuals who joined in and made this possible. And thanks to the United Way for bringing it all together.” As for the future, the Journal asked Hughes if they would do it again. She said, “Yes, and next year will be bigger and better!”
Congressman Mike Johnson and his staff held a Town Hall meeting at the Library in Coushatta on Wednesday, August 2nd. He reviewed actions taken by the US House since the current term began in January. And Johnson took questions from area residents in attendance.
Discussing issues affecting Red River Parish most directly, Johnson said, “I’m in there advocating for improvements in the state. I want to strengthen the role of Barksdale (Air Force Base) and Fort Polk. I also want to see reforms of the Veterans Administration.
Johnson said the most pressing issue facing the country is the national debt, which is now at 20 Trillion dollars (that is 9+ zeroes or $20,000,000,000.00). His list of priorities for controlling spending is reforming health care, the tax code, and reducing government regulations on business.
On health care reform, Johnson said, “Four to six percent of the people have chronic illnesses and they incur most of the costs of health care. If we are to cover pre-existing conditions the problem is how to pay for it.” Johnson wants to create an “invisible” risk sharing pool for chronically ill patients. He said this would allow premiums and costs for the other 94-96 percent to decrease, to become affordable. Johnson says to pay for the high-risk pool there would be a small surcharge on insurance policies.
At the town hall, the Journal asked Congressman Johnson to comment on proposed changes to retirement benefits that affect military retirees, the unemployability disability benefit. The proposal is to stop the disability benefit when the recipient reaches the age of retirement in favor of that person receiving social security. Johnson said some people say that benefit is a windfall. Johnson disagrees, “We have to protect those, including veterans, who depend upon that disability income.”
During 2017 there were three stories involving public facilities. A new fire station was begun. The voting machines were moved to a new warehouse. And repairs were made to the post office after an auto accident. From the Journal’s issue of March 31st comes the story of the groundbreaking at the new fire station.
Fire Chief Shane Felts is excited. Construction of the department’s new fire station is underway with workers on scene daily. On Wednesday, they held their official groundbreaking ceremony.
They actually held two groundbreakings to accommodate the schedules of firefighters, local officials and fire district board members. Felts says the new fire station will be large enough to park all of the department’s vehicles inside the large bay on the north side of the building. There are accommodations for firefighters on duty plus offices and kitchen on the south side of the building.
Special guest at the evening groundbreaking was Chief Bobby Hayes of DeSoto Fire District 9. Hayes loaned the plans for his station in DeSoto parish to Red River after Chief Felts saw and liked the design of Hayes’ station.
The new fire station is under construction on US 71 north of Coushatta at the intersection with US 371. Felts said the total price tag on the new station is $3,000,000.
That same issue, March 31st, featured the story on moving day at the new voting machine warehouse.
Thursday was moving day for the parish voting machines. All 32 machines were loaded up at the old warehouse on US 71 South and moved to the new warehouse beside Dairy Queen on US 71 North.
The machines were unloaded and rolled into the new, more spacious warehouse by Election Technician John Perkins and Toby Trichel. Perkins is employed by the Secretary of State and Trechel works for Trichel Enterprises, a bonded moving company.
The warehouse is maintained by the Louisiana Secretary of State, the agency overseeing elections in the state. Perkins said, “There are 32 voting machines in the warehouse. Eighteen machines are used on Election Day, with the rest of them are for back up. “
The Coushatta Post Office has been repaired. Back in mid-August a motorist failed to stop in the parking lot and drove through the east wall of the building. Damage was all structural and no mail or mailboxes were damaged. See the August 16th issue of The Journal for the original story.
There was a plywood patch in the wall for weeks. And then workers were rebuilding and repairing the wall.
Today there is little trace of the damage. The only giveaway would be the fresh mortar between the bricks, the brightly painted interior and an area of new floor tiles.
The talk of the area in late August was the eclipse of the sun. It was visible from a wide path across North America. In Red River Parish we got only a partial eclipse, however that did not damper anyone’s excitement. Here is the Journal’s report from August 23rd.
Right on time, the Moon moved between the Earth and the Sun on Monday afternoon. Coushatta was included in the spectacular show. Students at Red River High and Junior High filed out into the courtyard to take it all in.
Principal Mike Peter of the Junior High furnished his students with a goodie bag containing sun viewing glasses, a Moon Pie, Sunny D, Sun Chips…(you get the idea). The goodies were packed by two hard working members of the WOW, Brenda Jones and C’Ann Norman.
The use of a pinhole to project the sun’s image on a piece of paper was demonstrated. And several students brought welder’s helmets to view the eclipse. As you can tell from the photos accompanying this story, a great time was had by all.
The photo of the eclipse was taken about half way through the event, when the clouds parted to let the sun shine through. The photo is compliments of Dominique Burton, a senior at Red River High.