The accident occurred at 3:30 a.m., when the vehicle in which Johnson was a passenger overturned. The driver, Kade Abshire, was ejected from the vehicle and treated for minor injuries. During an investigation, officials determined that Abshire was under the influence of alcohol.
The two were allegedly returning from a bar, one that does not close until 4 a.m. Kirk Champagne, who is the mayor of Kaplan and a friend of both families involved, said he wants to see change.
“I’m on a mission to make sure these bars get closed at 2 a.m.,” Champagne said.
Bars in Vermilion Parish not located within a municipality are allowed to remain open until 4 a.m. There are reportedly fewer than five that fall in that range. Bars in municipalities, including Kaplan do close at 2 a.m. Bars in Maurice remain open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We have a bar near Kaplan, that’s not incorporated, that can stay open until 4 a.m.,” Champagne said. “That’s ludicrous and plum ridiculous.
“I feel compelled to do this.”
Champagne admits the effort is at the ground floor.
“But I’m pushing this hard,” Champagne said Monday. “I’ve already talked to some police jurors this morning. I talked to the ones from Kaplan, Ronald Menard and Cloris Boudreaux, and they are both on board.
“It’s a major push and I am not letting go.”
The Vermilion Parish Police Jury held its regular meeting last night. The issue was not expected to be on the agenda. Champagne said Monday morning that he would not attend the meeting as he planned to attend services for Johnson.
“By all means I will be at the next one,” Champagne said of the jury meeting.
Champagne is also using social media to help spread the word of the mission.
“I put in on Facebook,” Champagne said. “You would be surprised by some of the comments. Some said it won’t make a difference and doesn’t matter. One guy even said that I need to mind my own business because it’s not in the city limits of Kaplan. When I’m going to go bury that kid, that is my business. When I looked at those parents Sunday morning, and the pain I saw, I never ever want to see that again.”
Champagne said about 95 percent of the feedback from Facebook is positive. As for his being told the issue is not a Kaplan city matter, that is fine.
“I’m doing this as Kirk Champagne, citizen of Vermilion Parish,” he said. “I’m not doing this as mayor.”
Vermilion Parish Sheriff Michael Couvillon, whose office will be in charge of enforcing any potential ordinance on bar closures, said he believes it could be a good thing.
“If it saves lives,” Couvillon said, “I am definitely behind it.”
The sheriff said there are other issues an earlier closing time could help alleviate.
“We’ve been called out for fights that have happened after 2 a.m.,” Couvillon said. “I think (an earlier closing time) would definitely help.”
Champagne is not saying that this accident, or any others will be prevented by all bars closing at 2 a.m.
“But we have to try something,” he said. “To sit there and do nothing is not an option. There is no way I could look myself in the mirror if I don’t do something.
“Right or wrong, I have to try something.”
For Champagne, that “something” is continuity.
“We have to have continuity throughout the parish,” Champagne said. “When you are out drinking, you don’t want to stop the fun. You then say, let’s go to the next place where we can stay another two hours.
“We want to put a stop to that. In theory, at 2 a.m. you go home.”
Champagne said he knows that may not be the case.
“There’s nothing to say they won’t get in their cars and go to another parish,” he said. “We can’t control everything. But we can control what is in our control.”
Couvillon said he believes the bar owners would cooperate with any closing-time ordinance.
“I will enforce any ordinance that the police jury passes,” Couvillon said. “I’m confident that if the jury passes an ordinance, the bar owners will follow the ordinance. We don’t have many problems with them following the ordinances they have now.”
Champagne said he is by no means out to attack bars or bar owners.
“But there has to be a time to call it quits,” he said. “I am going to petition the parish to make that time 2 a.m.
If getting bars to close at 2 a.m. saves just one life, the fight will be worth every bit.
“That’s the title of my whole mission,” Champagne said, “save one life.
“Save one life.”