WESTLAKE, La. – 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 death was ruled a suicide Tuesday. The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office said it was asking Louisiana State Police to investigate the death, and a motivation wasn't immediately known.
Washington was elected to lead the 4,500-population town of Westlake, which is 80 percent white. The three-term city councilman was supposed to have taken office Tuesday as the town's first new mayor in 24 years.
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.
Washington, a retired refinery worker, easily won election in September. 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."