A long-simmering feud between the flamboyant and pugnacious tow truck company owner Lee “Big Lee” Martin and an elderly neighbor ended Saturday morning with the older man killing Martin in his front yard in Metairie.
Martin, 53, the owner of Big Lee’s Towing and a self-styled LSU sports superfan, was shot about 10:30 a.m. after spraying his neighbor with a water hose, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said. Martin died next to his house, feet away from his trademark colorfully outfitted truck.
Neighbor Wayne Higgins, 78, was detained on the scene and would be booked on a count of second-degree murder, Lopinto said. He faces life imprisonment if convicted on that count.
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The entire confrontation was caught on a neighbor’s surveillance camera, Lopinto said, bemoaning the feud’s bloody conclusion.
“This is no way to start off a Saturday morning or end one, either. ... People can fight over a bunch of things, but none of it has to lead to this,” Lopinto said.
Neighbors said they weren’t shocked that there was violence between Martin, a businessman known as much for his big mouth as his love of LSU athletics, and Higgins, a retired plumber known for his quick temper.
Both men had lived in the 600 block of Bonnabel Boulevard for decades, neighbor Deborah Kirkley said.
Images from the scene where controversial towtruck company owner Lee "Big Lee" Martin was fatally shot by a neighbor outside his home in Metairie.
According to Lopinto, the confrontation started as Martin was watering his palm trees. Higgins was pulling out of his driveway onto Bonnabel in a black Toyota Tundra, with distinctive flame decals, when Martin splashed his vehicle with water.
Higgins rolled down his driver-side window, and Martin — never one to shy away from a confrontation — sprayed water in through the opening.
An enraged Higgins got out of his truck and shot Martin, who died near an LSU tent flag and a children’s car that was under his own parked, oversized vehicle. The tow truck magnate made it to the side of his house before collapsing, Lopinto said.
A young girl who lives nearby discovered Martin's body, neighbors said.
Higgins went inside his house and later surrendered to deputies.
One shell casing was collected from the scene, and neighbors described hearing a single gunshot.
Near the scene where Metairie towtruck owner Lee "Big Lee" Martin was fatally shot hours earlier, a man who identified himself as Martin's cou…
Higgins lived in a neat white one-story house with green trim, while Martin’s house next door was a well-known local landmark. He had LSU flags, Tiger mascot cut-outs and an LSU mailbox — and he talked about how inside the house he had a purple-and-gold casket that he hoped to be buried in when he died.
The neighbors had been at odds for years. Kirkley recalled that the feud stemmed from the placement of a fence between their properties. It escalated beyond that with trash and leaves being pushed from one yard into the other.
“Over time, they’ve always argued back and forth,” said Chris Lee, who lives on the other side of Martin. “We’d hear them yell.”
Martin was known to rub some people the wrong way, Lee said, and he described Higgins as irascible. “He’s an old man. You don’t want to mess with an old man,” Lee said.
Kirkley also said Higgins had a temper. Yet he was also the neighborhood “guard dog” when most residents evacuated after Hurricane Katrina, she said.
Martin had called authorities to report his neighbor drawing a gun in the past, Kirkley said. Still, neither she nor anyone else on the block knew of any incidents in the past few days. Martin had come over to her house the night before for a quick visit, she said.
“I figured it might come to blows,” she said. “But I never thought in my wildest dreams (Higgins) would have the audacity to shoot him.”
A search of online court records did not reveal any local criminal history for Higgins.
While his colorful support for LSU sports drew Martin some favorable local news coverage, he also made headlines for negative reasons.
He was arrested last year on allegations that he intentionally hit a woman with his tow truck in Kenner. Prior to that, he pleaded guilty to punching the manager of a rival tow truck company, also in Kenner. The intentional ramming case was still pending. He received probation in the other matter.
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After yet another altercation, Martin had entered a diversion program on a disorderly conduct charge following a heated argument over whether he could tow the truck of a man who had parked in the lot of a Kenner strip mall while waiting for a friend.
A woman also accused Martin of raping her days after he had hired her to process paperwork for him, but he was not arrested or charged in that case.
Despite all his warts, Kirkley maintained that Martin was “a good guy" at heart.
“He was crazy and a little off, but he was a good neighbor,” she said.
Advocate staffers Jeff Nowak and Matthew Hinton contributed to this report.
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