No comment from Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft. An eyewitness? Perhaps.
But there are traffic cameras at the Whiskey Bay exit where Shunick’s bicycle was found. And security videos have been prominent in the investigation leading to the arrest last week of the 33-year-old offshore worker with a checkered past.
Since her disappearance on May 19, investigators with surrounding city and parish law enforcement have worked tirelessly, in concert with the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, to locate Shunick and to piece together a crime scene with, at first, little more than surveillance video taken by a camera installed on a city government building.
The video showed Shunick riding her bicycle in the wee morning hours and captured images of vehicles traveling in Shunick’s vicinity at roughly the same time.
According to Craft, a turning point came on June 14, when a “concerned citizen” reported, on the TIPS line, critical information leading investigators to link Lavergne with the only vehicle appearing in the video which had not been cleared – a white Chevrolet Z71 pickup truck registered in his name.
Investigators discovered that this vehicle had been reported stolen in Montgomery County, Texas. Within days after photographs of the suspect vehicle had been released, investigators located the burned-out vehicle in San Jacinto County, Texas.
Based on information and surveillance, detectives said they were able to positively identify the truck that traveled directly behind Mickey in the video as belonging to Lavergne.
Craft said investigators were also able to place Lavergne in and around the Whiskey Bay Bridge where Mickey’s bicycle was found on May 26. He said damage to the rear wheel of the bike was consistent with having been struck by a vehicle.
According to a spokesperson from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, cameras mounted high in the median at the Whiskey Bay exit are part of a statewide network of traffic cameras monitored in real time by DOTD employees to spot traffic jams on the long stretches of elevated roadway common in this state.
Go to www.trafficland.com and click through the “Live Traffic” prompts to see for yourself.
They are not designed for security or surveillance, she said. They provide a snapshot every 10 seconds. And she said the images are not archived so that investigators could go back and scan them.
Only in the unlikely event that one of the traffic monitors happened to notice and remember a white Z71 exit at Whiskey Bay – in the distant background of the camera’s view – could such a traffic camera provide damning evidence in the case.
The other possibility besides an eyewitness is that the cameras have a functionality beyond that available to the public, or that there are other cameras in the vicinity.
Lavergne, a resident of St. Landry Parish, was arrested in Lafayette Parish by the Louisiana State Police on Thursday, July 5, for failing to register as a sex offender. He was soon charged, by the Lafayette Police Department, with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder. Craft said Lavergne has requested an attorney to represent him and that he has refused to cooperate with the investigation. Craft said he believes that Lavergne acted alone and he expects no further arrests in connection with this case.
The I-10 traffic surveillance – which includes cameras at Ramah, Butte La Rose, Henderson, Breaux Bridge, I-49, and Ambassador Caffery – is part of a network that includes cameras on the Bonnet Carré Spillway with more to come in the New Orleans area.
According to DOTD, the surveillance network was prompted by the gas well blowout in November 2007 that was less than 300 feet from the west-bound lanes of I-10 near Ramah shut down interstate traffic across the Basin for 10 days.