LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The Lake Area saw major headlines in 2018, witnessed inspiring acts of kindness and met true heroes living among us.
Heroes in action
Carolyn Maddox was at choir practice one April afternoon at Turning Point Apostolic Church in DeRidder. Suddenly, someone ran inside the church saying a woman was about to have a baby in the parking lot. A former nursing student, Maddox jumped into action. She helped deliver Chelsea Johnson’s little girl five weeks ahead of schedule.
In another story of “right place, right time,” two teenagers were driving home when they came across a motorcyclist in the road. Caleb Brignac had been seriously injured in a hit-and-run and was still in the street when Konar LeBlanc and Courtney Ciesla pulled up. They worked quickly to block traffic, put pressure on Brignac’s wounds, and call for help.
“They were very mature and professional," said Mike Brignac, the victim’s father.“ They did more than any teenager would be expected to do. We’ll be eternally grateful to them.”
In what might be the most inspiring story of 2018, we watched a teen, blind since birth, achieve her ballet dreams. Cierra Theriot never saw the dancers' elegant moves in the Nutcracker, but she heard the rhythm of the music and the sound of the applause.
"My mom would describe to me what they were doing when they were dancing, and I just thought it was amazing," said Cierra.
She had her own dreams of dancing and with the help of Lake Charles Dance Academy and dancer Celia Gilbeaux, she was able to perform.
Southwest Louisiana brought home championship titles in several sports in 2018. Sulphur and Lacassine both claimed state golf titles, while St. Louis Catholic’s wrestling team garnered the Division 3 championship. Merryville baseball made school history by securing its first-ever state title, and DeRidder’s softball team did the same in Class 4A.
With the announcement of Don Dixon’s retirement, Lake Charles was tasked with choosing a new police chief. Shawn Caldwell, a 25-year veteran of the department was selected and confirmed. He’ll officially take the helm on Jan. 16, 2019.
Woodrow Karey, who admitted to killing Pastor Ronald Harris in front of his congregation in 2013, was found not guilty. They jury voted 10-2 not guilty, adding to the lengthy debate over a Louisiana Constitutional Amendment regarding unanimous jury verdicts.
Serving a life sentence, convicted murderer Felix Vail spoke publicly for the first time about the death of his first wife, Mary Horton Vail. He maintains his innocence in the case, and in the disappearances of two other women.
Many in the community mourned the death of retired federal Judge Patricia Minaldi. She served as a federal judge from 2003 until July 2017 when she retired from the bench amidst admitted struggles with alcoholism.
“She was a phenomenal attorney. Bright, intuitive, she worked with me on the Ricky Langley case, the first trial in Baton Rouge,” said Rick Bryant, former Calcasieu District Attorney. She was a very special woman in an era when men dominated the criminal justice scene. She was one of the first women on the bench.”
Spirit of Community
A 7-year-old was inspired to help less fortunate families in Southwest Louisiana and did so the only way he knew how – a lemonade stand.
“Other people in the world don’t want to help anybody but themselves,” Channing Lyons said. “I care about them, I want them to have good times in their homes. I want them to have homes.”
KPLC’s annual Pack the Tent event had another successful year! Donations from the community poured in, filling the pantry at Abraham’s Tent, which serves hundreds of meals each day to those in need.
Perhaps the best show of love and kindness came by mail. Drake Quibodeaux, an 8-year-old diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, asked for Christmas cards this year. His goal was 190 cards, but after hearing his request, the world responded. Now the Quibodeaux’s living room is overflowing with cards and gifts from around the world.
“It’s hard because you feel totally alone and then you open a card and it says, ‘We love you, we don’t know you but we love you,’ ” Danielle Quibodeaux said. “It’s overwhelming and it helps us get through the hard days.”
Sometimes a little kindness, goes a long way.
Best wishes in 2019!