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Insurance agent kills two investigators, self

VILLE PLATTE — Charles Fontenot shook his head and said, “It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this in Ville Platte.”

Fontenot was one of nearly 100 bystanders who watched as SWAT teams stood guard outside a Ville Platte insurance agency where two state investigators were killed Tuesday afternoon before the suspected shooter, John Melvin Lavergne, 65, killed himself.

Lavergne, owner of the Lavergne Insurance Agency, was found inside his business just before 7 p.m. Tuesday when SWAT team members entered the building near the intersection of Court and West Main streets. Trooper Stephen Hammons, spokesman for Louisiana State Police Troop I, said it was unclear how long Lavergne had been dead.

The incident began around 1:35 p.m. Tuesday when Louisiana Department of Insurance investigators Rhett Jeansonne and Kim Sledge went to the business to collect case information as part of an investigation, the Department of Insurance said in a statement.

Lavergne shot both agents, who were later pronounced dead, Hammons said. Investigators still are trying to determine whether the agents were shot inside or outside the building.

Members of several law enforcement agencies stood guard over the yellow two-story building for all of Tuesday afternoon and into the early evening hours. Around 6:40 p.m., a large state police truck carrying SWAT team members pulled up to the entrance, and several members could be seen pointing weapons upward near the door.

About 10 minutes later, the members walked away from the entrance, and other police officers from the surrounding perimeter gathered closer to the building. Just after 7 p.m., police confirmed Lavergne’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Jeansonne had been an investigator with the Department of Insurance’s fraud section since November 2006. Sledge was an 11-year veteran of the department who began her career in the health division and later moved to the fraud section. Both were from Denham Springs.

Lavergne had a history of fraud complaints with the department. In November 2009, a cease-and-desist order was issued against his agency for allegedly providing fraudulent proofs of vehicle insurance. The company was fined $16,500.

In January, Lavergne was arrested on charges of unfair trade practices following an investigation into Lavergne allegedly failing to send insurance premiums collected from customers to the insurance companies.

The standoff sent shock waves through Ville Platte on Tuesday evening as nearly 100 bystanders gathered around an established perimeter, trying to get a glimpse at what was happening inside the building. Louisiana State Police, the Ville Platte Police Department, the Opelousas Police Department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office all were on the scene.

The day’s steamy thunderstorm left locals jolting with each thunderbolt, trying to decipher the sharp claps from those of possible gunshots.

“It’s scary because you never know what could go down,” said resident Mary Larnett during the evening, when it was unclear whether negotiators were speaking with Lavergne. Hammons said investigators never made contact with Lavergne during the incident.

“For something like this to happen … it’s bad,” Larnett continued. “It could have been any one of us.”

Resident Nickey Moment stood at a nearby corner with several other residents and friends, taking the situation in.

“I’m speechless, honestly,” Moment said. “This is very surprising. I was at work when I got a phone call about it, and everyone was just shocked and surprised.”

James Bordelon sat in his car a few blocks away, talking with other residents and in disbelief at the actions of his former insurance agent and neighbor.

“He was the nicest one in there. He was always very patient, very polite,” Bordelon said. “But I know there’s been a lot of allegations about him in the last couple of years. But when I dealt with him, he was very nice and always tried to help you out.”

Megan Wyatt of the Daily World contributed to this report.

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Written by lordsinsurancelog

June 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Insurance News