VILLE PLATTE — A 67-year-old insurance agent in this Evangeline Parish city shot and killed two insurance fraud investigators Tuesday before barricading himself inside his business, where he was later found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, State Police said.
Ville Platte police officers discovered the bodies of the two state Department of Insurance fraud section investigators at about 1 p.m. after responding to a call about shots being fired near Lavergne’s Insurance Agency on the corner of Court and Main streets.
Police also found John Melvin Lavergne, the owner and registered agent of the insurance company, barricaded inside the business, Hammons said.
The victims were identified as Rhett Jeansonne, 39, and Kim Sledge, 44, both of Denham Springs, said Stephen Hammons, a spokesman for State Police.
State Department of Insurance Commissioner James J. Donelon said the two investigators were attempting to collect case information from an agent, later identified as Lavergne.
Hammons said details about what happened inside the business before the shooting would not be released while State Police were investigating the incident.
But Eric Manuel, the son of Lavergne’s insurance partner, Charles Manuel, said his father was inside the business when the shooting occurred, although he escaped unharmed.
Manuel said his father told him that the investigators were at the business to look over files. Charles Manuel heard the shots from another room, his son said.
When Charles Manuel walked into the room, Lavergne shouted at him to “get out,” Eric Manuel said.
Throughout the standoff, police negotiators used a loudspeaker to talk to Lavergne, trying to get him to surrender.
Two mobile robots were also sent into the front door of the business.
A SWAT team, made up of members of State Police and the Opelousas Police Department, finally entered the business just before 7 p.m., Hammons said.
Once inside, authorities found Lavergne dead from a gunshot wound. Investigators also located a rifle, Hammons said.
The shooting left the city of Ville Platte in shock, said Camille Fontenot, executive director of the Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce, who said she knew the longtime insurance agent well.
She said it was well known that Lavergne had been under investigation, but “I never heard anything about him that would indicate this. He must have snapped.”
Lavergne had been in the insurance business since 1977 but had been in trouble with state regulators in the past few years.
A Jan. 31 state Department of Insurance news release shows that Lavergne had been arrested by the State Police Insurance Fraud/Auto Theft Unit on seven counts of prohibited acts and unfair trade practices.
He had been served by the state insurance fraud investigators with a summary suspension of his license, a cease-and-desist order, a $4,500 fine, and notice of proposed license revocation for alleged misappropriation of insurance premiums, according to the release.
Lavergne allegedly failed to remit more than $1,160 in premiums to insurance companies, which resulted in four of his clients having their insurance policies canceled due to nonpayment of premiums, according to the Jan. 31 news release.
Lavergne was issued a property and casualty license in April 1977, which expired in April 2010, that news release says.
In November 2009, the Department of Insurance issued a cease-and-desist order to Lavergne after he provided fraudulent proof of insurance to the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Lafayette on four occasions, according to a Nov. 9, 2009, Insurance Department news release.
The department that year served him with a six-month suspension of his licenses and a $16,500 fine, the news release says.
Jeansonne had been an investigator with the Fraud Section since November 2006. Sledge was an 11-year employee of the department, Donelon said in a statement Tuesday.
“I have personally spoken to members of both Ms. Sledge’s and Mr. Jeansonne’s families to express my sympathies over this tragic and unnecessary situation,” Donelon said in a statement.
Agency employees were being provided with grief counseling, Donelon said.
“My deepest sympathies go out to the loved ones of our two departed colleagues, in particular, the surviving spouses and children of these brave individuals,” he said.