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Youth inspires MLK speaker

A 13-year-old girl with a dynamic message, a confident voice and a powerful legacy inspires Dr. Robert Martin of Hammond.

Dr. Martin will be the keynote speaker Monday at the local ceremony celebrating the life and legacy of that teenager’s grandfather, civil rights activist the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Robert Martin plans to mention young Yolanda Renee King in his speech.

She considers herself an activist for human rights and encourages other youths to “do something.”

“I have a dream that enough is enough,” the young girl told a crowd at the 2020 March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. “I want to ask the young people here to join me in pledging that we have only just begun. Find something that you are good at and use it for good. That’s what activism is all about.”

Dr. Martin predicts Yolanda King will be very successful if she can make a connection with other youth.

“She will be, in my opinion, a very powerful force,” he said.

“Each person has their own mission,” he added, echoing one of Yolanda King’s themes. “We all have a role to play.”

Dr. Martin, at age 80, has held many roles himself. A native of Hammond who grew up in Seattle, he served in the military and has been an educator, counselor, Hammond city councilman, social worker, life coach, general contractor, elderly services officer with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, patient and family advocate with North Oaks Health System and member of the parish library board. He is also a second-generation Buffalo Soldier and vice president of the Buffalo Soldiers 9th and 10th Calvary Association.

Dr. Martin was still polishing his words for the MLK Day event when contacted Friday.

Although he expects to speak no more than 10 or so minutes at the ceremony, he said, “I want to give people something to think about.”

The festivities Monday will begin with a parade from Zemurray Park to MLK Park at 11 a.m. A change from previous years, the marchers and riders will line up at the park’s new parking lot near the swimming pool instead of on the park’s circular road. They will line up at 9:30 a.m. then embark from West Coleman Street to proceed to the park in north Hammond.

Grand marshals for the parade are Mrs. Earline Dangerfield and Willie S. Smith.

Mrs. Dangerfield supported her husband, the late Hammond City Councilman Wilbert Dangerfield Sr. during his years of service to the Hammond community. She also worked as a certified nurse’s assistant and insurance representative and was active in church work.

Mr. Smith, a Hammond business owner, grew up in Hammond and learned his skills as a plumber in Los Angeles, earning the nickname “Wet Daddy.” His hobbies are riding his candy apple red Harley, going on trips with the Hog Riderz motorcycle club and regaling others with stories about his experiences and anything that has to do with plumbing. He is described as friendly, outgoing and always willing to lend a helping hand.

The queen is Zoe Denea Bernard of Ponchatoula, a first-year student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Her parents are Christopher and Summer Bernard. She has a 3.8 GPA and is a member of the basketball team. She is a graduate of St. Joseph Catholic School, where she maintained a 4.0 GPA. She is described as an award-winning artist who has had artwork appearing on published Christmas cards. She has also received awards from Beta Club, the 4-H, a Coaches’ Award and more. In addition to being a book worm, her hobbies are drawing and singing, and she plans to study anesthesiology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The king is Brandon Bezell Ferguson Jr., son of Brandon and Jemina Ferguson. At Hammond High, he is an honor student, in the IB Programme, member of the basketball team. His hobbies are playing video games and making excellent grades. He looks forward to scoring perfectly on the ACT, going to college and then greater things.

Coordinator Gwen Ross-Bell said the MLK Park Association is looking for a return of warm sunshine Monday and beautiful weather after this weekend’s cold and rain.

When the parade reaches the park, Second Community Outreach Ministry and Christian Redemption Church Choir will present musical selections. Mrs. Roberta Jenkins-Jones, vice president of the MLK Park Association, will serve as mistress of celebration starting at noon. Pastor Robin Allbritton-Jackson will present the invocation, Pathfinders will present the colors, Champ Cooper sixth grade student Rh’Niyah Allen will lead in the pledge of allegiance and local first grade student Lauryn Jayla Skinner will present “Highlighting the Potential.”

All five Hammond city council members and Mayor Pete Panepinto or his designee are on the program to present greetings. Also on the program to make presentations and introductions are Patricia Morris, Melvin McElway, Delmas Dunn, Crystal Stanley, Sandra Weary, Lemar Marshall, Janice Carter-Beard, Freeman Ramsey and Mary Dantzler. Bishop Larry Jackson will give the benediction.

Men in the community turn out for MLK Day each year to cook for the crowd, Ross-Bell said. They traditionally set up their RVs in the park and start cooking early Monday morning – barbecue, chicken, ribs. Everything is free. No sales take place on the grounds on MLK Day, she said.

Man dies as result of Lacombe house fire

State Fire Marshal deputies are investigating the circumstances surrounding a house fire in Lacombe that claimed the life of a male resident.

Around 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, St. Tammany Fire District #3 responded to a report of a residential fire located in the 27000 block of Washington Street in Lacombe.

Firefighters arrived on scene to locate one occupant safely evacuated outside of the home and learned there was a second occupant who had originally escaped but re-entered the home in an attempt to save pet dogs and never came back out.

That victim was located and transported to a local hospital for treatment but unfortunately died the following day, according to a spokesperson from the fire marshal’s office. The status of the dogs is unknown at this time.

While official identification and cause of death are pending with the coroner’s office, the victim is believed to be a 60-year-old resident of the home.

Following an assessment of the scene, deputies determined the fire began in the home’s living room. While the official cause of this fire remains undetermined at this time, fire marshal’s office investigators are unable to rule out the possibility that it is home heating-related.

Due to the extent of the damage, deputies were unable to determine whether the home had working smoke alarms. However, even with the presence of working smoke alarms to alert occupants to a fire danger, the fire marshal’s office wants to stress the importance of getting out of a burning structure as fast as possible then staying out, the spokesperson said.

The office is also asking Louisianans to prioritize safe home heating practices during cold temperatures across the state. Space heaters should plug directly into wall outlets as opposed to extension cords or power strips, and devices should be 3-5 feet away from combustible objects like blankets, bedding and curtains. Space heaters, fireplaces and open flames like candles should never be left unattended. In addition, stoves and ovens should not be used as sources of heat. Oil-burning or wood-burning ovens should not be left unattended or overloaded with too much wood.

Smoke alarms are a proven tool to alert residents to a fire danger in order to escape safely. Operations Save-A-Life can help residents obtain home smoke alarms. The program partners with local fire departments to install smoke alarms for free. To learn more about Operation Save-A-Life, see

Odd links in multiple St. Tammany Parish murders

Clarence Chappell Jr. of Folsom lost two parents to homicides, 10 years apart. Questions are still unanswered in both tragedies.

Firefighters found his elderly mother and her brother dead, Tuesday, April 3, 2007, after a fire ravaged their home near Covington at four in the morning. According to the coroner, someone beat both people to death, and the police considered only one suspect, the woman’s husband who also died in the fire.

Investigators with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office theorized that Everette Simpson, 78, killed his wife, Estelle Simpson, 69, along with her brother, Allen Martin, 75, in the morning by repeatedly hitting them in the head with a blunt object as they slept in their beds, sheriff’s deputies told reporters one day after the fire.

Sheriff Jack Strain told reporters his detectives found no motive, no medical problems or financial hardships that could have sparked the killings, but felt certain that Everette Simpson, before dying of smoke inhalation, doused the home with gasoline and set it on fire to conceal the murders of his wife and her brother.

Simpson, deputies told reporters, took two fuel cans from a shed and poured gasoline throughout the house in the Lonesome Pines neighborhood off Louisiana 36 east of Covington. As he ignited the gasoline, they suggested, the fire and smoke overtook him. Firefighters found his body in a bathroom after extinguishing the blaze, following a 911 call from a neighbor.

Clarence Chappell Jr., Estelle Simpson’s only child from her first marriage, told reporters he wondered why his stepfather killed them.

“But only God knows, and he hasn’t given me a sign,” the son said.

Chappell said his mother married Simpson 10 years earlier after his father died.

“Stepfather was a private person,” he said. “He didn’t speak much, and no one knew very much about him.”

Clarence said his mother lived in New Orleans until three years ago when she built the raised cottage at 72172 East Sixth Street. “This was Momma’s dream home,” Clarence told a television news crew outside his mother’s destroyed home one day after the fire. “She worked her whole life for this house.”

Clarence said he knew of no marital problems between his mother and stepfather.

“I was real close with my momma,” he said, “But there were things she didn’t like to talk about.”

One of those things was the death of her first husband a decade earlier.

During the early morning hours of December 11, 1995, police in Folsom found the elder Clarence Chappell, 62, murdered in his wheelchair at 87178 McDougal Road, the local name for Louisiana 450, near the Washington Parish line. The coroner reported the man bled to death after someone shot him in the throat with a 38-caliber handgun.

Before finding Chappell’s body, police picked up a 30-year-old prostitute named Cassandra Morrow, walking naked in Chappell’s neighborhood with her clothes in her arms and two rocks of cocaine in her handbag.

Cassandra told police she shot Chappell after he tried to force her to perform oral sex. Today, she serves life in prison for his murder.

As a side note, in the 1991 unsolved kidnapping, rape, and murder of 56-year-old Folsom Jr. Food Store clerk, Jerry Monus, police named publicly only one person of interest, Clarence Chappell, Sr.

Although Clarence Chappell, Jr. remembered little about his father, he described his mother as “a sweet, church-going woman who would do anything to help anybody.” He said his mother invited her brother to move into her house last year after his wife died.

The brother, Allen Martin, celebrated his 75th birthday on March 26 with a dinner of fried fish and French fries, according to his niece, Freda Darby of Abita Springs. He told her he did not want anybody to make a fuss by giving him presents. But when pressed on the subject, he admitted he could use some T-shirts, she said.

“We bought him two packs of T-shirts and wrapped them up all fancy,” Freda said. “He was tickled-pink. It was always the simple things that made him happy.”

Her uncle, a retired construction worker and stroke victim, walked with the aid of a walker. Before their death, he and Clarence’s mother suffered multiple head injuries and, according to Coroner Peter Galvan, died before the fire started.

“They had no evidence of smoke or soot in their lungs,” he said. “I can say with a high-degree of certainty that they were not alive at the time of the fire.”

However, Everette Simpson had smoke in his lungs, Galvan said, showing he was alive when the fire started. It was on this bit of flimsy evidence that law enforcement found the man guilty and closed the case without further investigation.

“Families wonder why these things happen,” Sheriff Strain told reporters in 2007. “Unfortunately, that’s not a question we can always answer for them.”

Standing next to her cousin, Clarence, Freda Darby said, “Oh, my Lord! This is devastating,” clutching a crucifix on her necklace. “Our family never wanted to believe it was foul play, but today, we would at least like to know why.”

“Bayou Justice” is a weekly true crime column featuring notable South Louisiana crime-related stories, most still unsolved. If you have information that may help solve the case, contact Crime Stoppers or your local police agency.

Meeting planned for Velma residents

Tangipahoa Parish Government has scheduled a special meeting for Velma residents Tuesday to explain the installation of the new sewer service in the community.

The meeting is set for 5 p.m. at Bickham Chapel Church, said Parish Councilman Louis Joseph.

There will still be a monthly fee for service, but the installation will be free to all Velma residents regardless of income, he said.

“The process for this installation needs to be explained to all residents in person,” Councilman Joseph said. “Please make plans to attend this very important meeting.”

State boards

Gov. John Bel Edwards has appointed Michael F. Holly of Hammond to the State Board of Architectural Examiners. Holly is the principal architect and founder of Holly & Smith Architects. He will represent Architectural District 3.

Also, the governor reappointed Gregory A. Lala, CEO of Dixie RV Superstores, to the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission. Lala will serve at-large and as chair.

School board

Extending the COVID leave benefits for eligible employees is up for discussion at the Tangipahoa Parish School Board meeting Tuesday.

The board approved the leave for the first semester on Aug. 17, and the leave would be extended to the second semester of this school year.

Among other matters on the agenda are a report of the 2022 Krewe of Champions Parade by Superintendent Melissa Stilley, an update on the early childhood program by Carmen Brabham, the appointment of Lil Mirando and Jason Lipscomb as board members to the Educational Facilities Improvement District, the use of Anntoine Marketing & Design for the marketing and communication plan, and private discussion of Theodore Cyprian’s lawsuit against the school board.

Orry Coriell

Fire Controlman 1st Class Orry Coriell, a native of Ponchatoula, recently trained in anti-terrorism detaining tactics with Sonar Technician 1st Class Susan Nguyen of San Antonio.

Coriell practiced detaining Nguyen by tying her hands behind her back. They were aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77), on Jan. 6.

O’Kane, part of the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group along with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to serve as a ready response force to ensure maritime security and a free and open Indo-Pacific region.