POINTE COUPEE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - A concerned driver is demanding action to be taken against a fire chief who he claims he caught speeding and driving dangerously while on the clock along a rural road in Innis in August. Melvin Plauche says he’s still in disbelief at the chief’s actions.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Why is this guy driving like this and he’s a fireman?’” said Plauche.
He captured a video of the encounter, which happened along Highway 114. He handed the video over to WAFB’s Scottie Hunter. He claims the recording picks up right after the Pointe Coupee Fire unit tore around his van at a dangerous speed. The driver was in a taxpayer-funded unit and Plauche alleges he was speeding and passing cars while on the clock. Plauche quickly switched on his dash cam. During the video, Plauche can been seen moving the camera to show the driver was at one point racing down the road, doing at least 75 mph in a 45 mph zone. He believes the video speaks for itself.
"Just to even ride with him, it's 75 miles per hour and then he rides up behind another vehicle like he did me and he slows down to 65," said Plauche.
Plauche says he chose to follow the unit, speeding himself to get a picture of the license plate. He says he followed the driver for about 15 minutes and says whoever was behind the wheel continued to speed for miles. At one point during the video, the drivers meet a school bus while on the road and then at another time, the video clearly shows a speed limit sign posted at 45 mph along the rural road.
"It was important to find out who this was so we can get them to not drive this way," said Plauche.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Plauche why he felt it was okay for him to drive 75 mph and not okay for the fire chief.
“It’s not okay,” he answered. “I get upset with myself after the fact after I think about what I did, but my purpose was to stop him from doing this again.”
The 9News Investigators stopped by the Pointe Coupee District 1 fire station, where the same unit could be seen parked out front. After verifying the license plate matched the truck from the video, WAFB’s Scottie Hunter started asking questions. District 1 Fire Chief Carey Manuel admits it was his truck and that he was driving that morning, but for some reason would only agree to do an interview if WAFB agreed not to show his face during the interview.
Manuel takes issue with the video, arguing that while it does show the car behind him going 75 mph, that does not necessarily mean he was going that fast.
“In my opinion, anyone can make that same exact video by dropping their speed and then accelerating and showing the speed as he’s accelerating,” he said.
Plauche says if he were speeding up while the chief was going the speed limit, either he would have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the unit, or at the very least, the gap between them on the road would have decreased dramatically. He claims the video doesn’t show either, which he says proves both of them were speeding at the time the video was taken.
"That’s ridiculous,” Plauche added.
The chief admits he never saw the video until WAFB’s Scottie Hunter showed it to him, but that he was aware of the complaint against him. After seeing the video, he says it’s possible he was going a little faster than necessary, but nowhere close to what the driver who shot the video claims. He says he cannot recall exactly how fast he was driving.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief if he cannot remember how fast he was traveling, if it’s at least safe to say he was going above 45 mph, which is what was posted.
"Yes, it is safe to say that it is possible I was doing above 45," said Manuel.
The chief says he’s not required to be at work at a specific time, but that he does have to drive from his home in a different parish to get there. The video appears to show he never flashed any lights or sirens during the trip, so it begs the question of why he was traveling above the speed limit while on the clock. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief if he was responding to something at the time the video was taken.
“That morning, no, I was not responding to an emergency,” Manuel admitted. “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember exactly what was going on that morning.”
Plauche claims he reported the incident to Robert Allen, chairman of the Pointe Coupee Fire Protection Board, which oversees the fire department, because he believes if anyone else was caught driving that way, they would be held accountable. He says the same should be expected of a public official, especially while behind the wheel of a vehicle paid for with taxpayer money.
“He’s in a position where he should know better than this,” said Plauche. “It’s not okay because you have to abide by the same laws as everyone else.”
Manuel defended his driving, saying while he has never been pulled over in his unit, he believes if he was speeding, an officer would not hesitate to hold him responsible.
“I’m just as likely to get pulled over as anybody else,” said Manuel.
“I have never heard any complaints about his driving or the way he handles himself in public at all,” Allen added.
Allen says he followed up with the chief, but tells WAFB he did not take the complaint seriously because Plauche chose to take matters into his own hands instead of calling police. He says when he asked the driver why he did not call 911, he did not provide a real answer.
“I kind of blew it off at that point, I’m going to tell you,” said Allen. "I just didn’t give it much credence. If it was something that was endangering the lives of the public, the first thing I would have done is call 911.”
For that reason, Allen says he did speak with the chief, but did not hand out any official reprimand. He admits though, he made that decision without seeing the video of the incident for himself.
“I don’t remember the gentleman offering to show me the video,” said Allen.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Allen if he asked the driver who came forward with the complaint to see the video.
“No. I didn’t ask,” he said. “I guess I probably could have gone a little further with it, but I didn’t follow up on it beyond our discussion because I just didn’t think there was anything there.”