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Family wants mayor's death probed

January 03, 2007|Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writer

The shooting death of the newly elected mayor of a southwestern Louisiana town has been ruled a suicide, but the case has been turned over to state police at his family's request, investigators said Tuesday.

The body of Gerald "Wash" Washington, 57, was found Saturday night lying next to his truck, a single gunshot wound to the chest. A pistol was nearby.

"Preliminary investigation of the facts indicate a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the coroner's office ruled it a suicide," sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Myers said.

Washington's family originally declined to involve the state police but reversed that decision Tuesday, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said in a statement.

"It's always hard for family members to believe a loved one caused their own death," he said.

Members of Washington's family could not be reached for comment.

Washington was set to take office Tuesday as the first black mayor of Westlake, population 4,565. The town, 130 miles west of Baton Rouge, is 80% white, but racial issues appeared to play little or no role during the mayoral campaign. Washington won with 69% of the vote against a white opponent.

"If they wanted to keep a black man out, they never would have elected him," outgoing Mayor Dudley Dixon said.

Before winning the mayor's race, Washington served three four-year terms as a councilman in Westlake.

He was retired from Conoco, where he had worked for more than 30 years. His last job there was in the human resources department.

In a town the size of Westlake, Washington's death has been especially hard to take in, Myers said. "He was a very well-liked man. We're all in shock," she said.

Dixon, who is retiring after serving 24 years as mayor, said he met with Washington on Saturday afternoon to go over some administrative matters.

"We carried on a conversation. I knew he had some worries about taking over. I told him I'd give myself six months to catch up on things.

"It's unbelievable this could have happened at this time. He had to be under a tremendous amount of pressure to do it," he said.

The City Council will appoint an interim mayor to serve until voters elect a new mayor in March.

lianne.hart@latimes.com

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