Emergency responders in Vermilion Parish are searching for a Maurice man who has been missing since his vehicle plunged into a coulee off Etienne Street during Monday’s severe storms.
The man, 45-year-old Cleveland Duhon, left his mother’s home around 9 p.m. Monday night after informing her he planned to spend the night out, his brother Marcus Duhon said Wednesday. Around 9:10 p.m., a surveillance camera near the coulee captured Cleveland Duhon’s car turning into the waterway and plunging below the surface into the coulee. The spot is about a 5 minute drive from their mother’s home, he said.
Marcus Duhon theorized in the dark, poor conditions his brother mistook the water as solid ground because of an excavator parked beside the coulee and thought he was pulling either onto the roadside or into a driveway. Once his vehicle went under, there was no sign of Cleveland Duhon attempting to escape from the vehicle, he said.
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Marcus Duhon has kept vigil with other family members at the scene as law enforcement officials search the area for his brother. He said he’s barely left since he was notified of his brother’s disappearance.
“He’s my brother, he’s family. I just need to know. I want to know if he’s there, if he’s not there. ... We just keep praying and hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” Marcus Duhon said.
Maurice Police Department Chief Guy Nerren said Cleveland Duhon’s vehicle was discovered by a law enforcement patrol around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday after the vehicle began to protrude from the water. The vehicle was recovered, but Duhon was nowhere to be found, he said.
The Maurice Police Department, Maurice Volunteer Fire Department and the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office have been searching for Duhon since the vehicle was recovered. Responders have searched along the banks, checked inside a connected culvert as deeply as tools and gathered debris will allow, used sonar to search a nearby pond and used a drone and helicopter for aerial searches. The department is waiting on cadaver dogs to help search the area, Nerren said.
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The chief said at this stage, as time has passed without evidence Cleveland Duhon escaped alive, they’re shifting into recovery mode.
Marcus Duhon said debris clogging the culvert has made it difficult to tell if his brother was swept inside and trapped, or if his body was pushed south by receding floodwaters. He said law enforcement and local government are coordinating how to clear out the culvert, and in the meantime family and friends have worked to amass some equipment to assist if it’s needed. Waiting is frustrating, he said.
Nerren said the agency has avoided engaging the family and other residents in the search because of safety concerns about untrained rescuers being in the surrounding water.
The rain came down so hard and so fast one end of Jefferson Street in downtown Lafayette Monday evening that there was no time to react.
Marcus Duhon said they’re holding onto a sliver of hope his brother might be found alive. He described his sibling as an outgoing, spontaneous and fun loving man who was human; he made mistakes, but he cared about those around him, was good at heart and would help those he saw in need if he could, he said.
Cleveland Duhon was also the father of three adult children — a daughter and two sons, his brother said.
“There’s always hope. If you believe in God, miracles can happen. I believe in God,” he said. “I’m feeling for my momma most of all and I want to give her some kind of closure. ... If he is gone and passed away, my mom needs his body. I want to find my brother’s body.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Maurice Police Chief Guy Nerren's last name as Neven. The Acadiana Advocate regrets the error.