Thu, Jan 04, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Mayor-elect found shot in chest may have killed himself

DISBELIEF The family of Gerald Washington, who won Westlake's mayoral election with 69 percent of the vote, asked for an investigation of his death

AP , WESTLAKE, LOUISIANA

The first black mayor-elect in a largely white Louisiana town committed suicide days before he was to take office, the coroner said.

The body of Gerald "Wash" Washington, 57, was found on Saturday night in the parking lot of a former high school with a pistol nearby.

He had been shot once in the chest, investigators said.

SUICIDE RULING

The death was ruled a suicide on Tuesday, the same day Washington was scheduled to take office.

The Sheriff's Office said it was asking the Louisiana State Police to investigate the cause of death.

FAMILY REJECTS RULING

The mayor-elect's family has not accepted the coroner's ruling and has asked for a state police investigation, Sheriff Tony Mancuso said.

Washington was elected to lead the small town of Westlake, with a population of 4,500.

The population of Westlake is 80 percent white.

The three-term city councilman was supposed to have taken office on Tuesday as the town's first new mayor in 24 years and first black mayor.

INTERIM MAYOR

The city council has a period of 10 days to appoint an interim mayor.

If the city council fails to meet that deadline, the governor could appoint someone to lead the town as interim mayor, according to Westlake Mayor Dudley Dixon, who was about to retire from his long service as mayor.

EASY WIN

Washington, a retired refinery worker, had easily won the town's election in September of last year.

He had 696 votes -- nearly 69 percent of the vote -- to 318 for social worker Paula Johnson.

"Mr. Washington is going to be missed by all the people of Westlake," Dixon said.

"It's one of the most tragic things I've heard in a long time. He would be a good mayor," he said.

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