Coroner: Death of town's first black mayor was a suicide

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

The body of Gerald "Wash" Washington, 57, was found 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.

The mayor-elect's family did not accept the results and asked for a state police investigation, Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. No note from Washington was found.

Handgun soot on and inside the wound indicated the gun barrel was touching Washington's torso when it went off, said Dr. Terry Welke, the coroner. "That is what is usually seen in a self-inflicted gunshot wound," he said.

Washington, who served three terms as a city councilman, was supposed to have taken office Tuesday as Westlake's first new mayor in 24 years.

Although the southwest Louisiana town of 4,500 is 80 percent white, Washington had no trouble winning election in September.

The city council has 10 days to appoint an interim mayor. If it fails to meet that deadline, the governor could appoint someone to lead the town, according to Mayor Dudley Dixon, who is retiring.

The retired refinery worker 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."

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