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Ralph Thibodeaux

A Lafayette principal accused of drunken driving and hit-and-run in Vermilion Parish has retired from the school system.

Ralph Thibodeaux exited the school system and retired effective Jan. 31,  according to personnel change records attached to the Lafayette Parish School Board’s Feb. 12 agenda. Thibodeaux was principal of the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center, a position he took over in 2018.

Larry Alexander, the district’s career and technical education director, has taken over as principal at the career center while administrators work to hire a full-time replacement. The district is actively searching for a new leader for the career center, district spokesperson Allison Dickerson said.

“Because Mr. Alexander works closely with the career center it’s been a smooth transition of responsibilities,” she said.

The Acadiana Advocate reached out to Thibodeaux for comment by phone Wednesday afternoon but did not receive a response.

Thibodeaux’s retirement came less than a week after he was arrested on first-offense DWI, reckless operation of a vehicle and two counts of hit-and-run.

According to arrest documents, Thibodeaux was traveling east on La. 92 about 6 p.m. Jan. 25 when he crossed the center line and side swiped two passing vehicles, causing moderate damage to the vehicles. Thibodeaux lost the front left wheel of his 2017 Chevrolet Silverado in the crash.

Louisiana State Police say that despite losing his wheel, Thibodeaux fled onto U.S. 167 headed south where he crossed the center median and struck a third vehicle before his truck came to rest in a ditch off the east side of the highway. Thibodeaux was extracted from his truck by Vermilion Parish sheriff’s deputies, the arrest report said.

The state trooper wrote in the report he suspected Thibodeaux was impaired. Thibodeaux agreed only to the horizontal gaze nystagmus, or eye test, portion of the standardized field sobriety test. The trooper said the results indicated Thibodeaux was impaired and he was arrested, the arrest report said.

Thibodeaux was taken to the Abbeville Police Department for a breath sample and had a blood-alcohol content level of .211%, the trooper said. In Louisiana, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving.

The area where the crash happened is in downtown Maurice. Thibodeaux is listed as living in the town on his arrest report.

At the time of the incident, the Lafayette Parish School System declined to comment on Thibodeaux’s arrest or potential disciplinary matters, citing privacy needs for personnel matters.

Before taking the helm at the career center, Thibodeaux served as the Superintendent of Louisiana Special Schools overseeing the Louisiana School for the Deaf, Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired and special programs at correctional centers and behavioral and mental health centers.

He also worked at the state level as high school redesign coordinator, deputy director of college and career readiness and deputy leader of network 5 for the Louisiana Department of Education, according to a 2018 school system press release announcing Thibodeaux’s career center appointment.

Thibodeaux spent most of his career in Vermilion Parish, first as a teacher at Henry High, Erath High and North Vermilion High, before becoming an administrator and working as assistant principal at Erath High then principal at Dozier Elementary and Abbeville High.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com