Shootout left 2 dead, 2 wounded
The family of St. Rick Riggenbach mourns during graveside services for him Jan. 31, 2013, in the Morgan City Cemetery. (The Daily Review Photo by Jean L. Kaess)
A Jan. 26 double killing of a 78-year-old Charenton man, followed by the killing of a Chitimacha tribal police officer and the wounding of two sheriff’s deputies responding to the scene gave 2013 a bloody start.
Wilbert Thibodeaux, 49, of Charenton has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of arson. Pretrial hearings continue in the case as Thibodeaux faces a possible death penalty while his defense team is preparing to argue the defendant’s sanity. His defense team has entered a plea of not-guilty by insanity.
Louisiana State Police hailed tribal officer Sgt. Rick Riggenbach as a hero after he was killed when he responded to reports of a mobile home fire and a man walking on Flattown Road armed with a shotgun.
Chitimacha Police Chief Blaise Smith called Riggenbach a friend and said the slain officer had died in his arms.
“Sgt. Riggenbach is a true hero and his actions saved the lives of many other people,” Smith said.
St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Deputies Jason Javier, 24, and Matthew Strickland, 25, were injured by buckshot as they also responded to the scene, police said. Strickland, had just rejoined the sheriff’s office that month after having worked there in 2011, and Javier had been employed there for two years. Riggenbach had served with the Chitimacha Tribal Police Department for 4½ years after serving over 10 years with the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office.
At some point in the shootout the accused gunman was shot. He was subsequently taken into custody and transported to a hospital.
Police said before the final gun battle, Thibodeaux had set fire to the mobile home of Eddie Lyons using a gasoline accelerant and shot and killed his elderly neighbor. He was also accused of torching a pair of vehicles and a shed at the residence near the 260-acre Chitimacha tribal reservation.
Several neighbors of the two men interviewed the day after the shooting said Thibodeaux had a history of mental illness and at times would quit taking his medication.
Two said Thibodeaux had recently gotten off his medication while he was in Texas and had gotten in trouble there.
St. Mary Parish Clerk of Court records show on Dec. 6, 2012, the month before the shooting, Thibodeaux was arrested in Port Arthur, Texas, for first-degree aggravated assault with a weapon. Four days before the killings, Thibodeaux was arrested by Chitimacha police for disturbing the peace and resisting an officer.
Thibodeaux’s defense team has had difficulty getting their client to cooperate with them and said initial efforts to interview him “raised red flags concerning his competency to stand trial,” according to court documents.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Saleme told the court that he intends to seek the death penalty.