Image: Louisiana State Police SWAT team members in Ville Platte, La.
Leslie Westbrook  /  The Advertiser via AP
More than 100 law enforcement officers, including a SWAT team, surrounded the two-story brick building in Ville Platte, La., for hours Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/8/2011 7:50:43 AM ET 2011-06-08T11:50:43

A troubled small-town insurance agent killed two unarmed state investigators who were paying his office a visit on Tuesday, authorities in Louisiana said.

The man, who had been accused previously of fraud, took his own life after barricading himself in his office, according to officials.

More than 100 law enforcement officers, including a SWAT team and negotiators, surrounded the two-story brick building for hours Tuesday before sending in a robot. The device took pictures of John Melvin Lavergne's body and SWAT members soon burst in to find him dead of a self-inflicted wound, state police said.

Investigators believe Lavergne shot the man and woman about 1 p.m. after they'd come to collect information at his office, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said. Veteran insurance fraud investigators Rhett Jeansonne and Kim Sledge were killed, according to Insurance Department Commissioner Jim Donelon. The pair didn't have guns.

Authorities say Lavergne had been in business for almost 40 years — but had a history of troubles. The state Department of Insurance in 2009 had suspended Lavergne's insurance license and fined him $16,500, saying he provided fraudulent proofs of vehicle insurance several times. He was 64 at the time.

In January, state police arrested Lavergne and charged him with unfair trade practices. In October 2010, police received complaints that Lavergne was not sending payments from his customers to their insurance companies, according to a news release. As a result, at least four customers had seven of their policies cancelled, police said.

Shattered glass
Motorist Cynthia Doucet said she saw Jeansonne lying outside the insurance office as she was driving by. She approached him with several others hoping to help.

"The man said he couldn't breathe and he was hollering for help," she said. "I went closer to the man and I see this lady lying inside the door and she was looking like she was dead."

Afterward, shattered glass littered the sidewalk in front of the office and blood smears were on the metal door jamb and on the dingy linoleum just inside door.

Local resident James Bordelon told The Daily Advertiser newspaper that Lavergne was "always very patient, very polite".

"I know there's been a lot of allegations about him in the last couple of years," he added. "But when I dealt with him, he was very nice and always tried to help you out."

Residents say Lavergne and other members of his family owned several businesses in the city of about 8,000 some 70 miles west of Baton Rouge.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments