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Photograph: Eunice family physician Zebediah Stearns is sworn-in as interim St. Landry Parish coroner by State District Judge Jason Meche. In the photo is Christie Searns, wife of Zebediah Stearns. (Photograph by Freddie Herpin.)

Editor/Contributing Writer

It didn’t take long for the St. Landry Parish Coroner’s Office team under newly appointed Coroner Zebediah Stearns to become part of a major crime scene investigation.

Stearns, who became interim coroner Wednesday night replacing Russell Pavlich and his investigators were summoned to a Eunice convenience store parking lot about 24 hours later after his swearing-in ceremony before the St. Landry Parish Council.

Authorities say two men were found dead of gunshot wounds outside the store located at the corners of West Maple and Boudreaux Street. In a police report carried on the St. Landry Now website, the two homicide victims apparently died at the scene, which the report said was being investigated by the Coroner’s Office.

Stearns, a Eunice family physician and emergency medical specialist, replaces Pavich, who operated the Coroner’s Office for 26 years before his June 12 death. 

The brief swearing-in of Stearns, flanked by his wife Christie, was performed by State District Judge Jason Meche.

The Council voted without opposition to select Stearns as interim coroner. Later during the meeting the Council also approved including the Coroner’s Office election on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Stearns spoke briefly to the Council and praised the integrity that Stearns said Pavlich had instituted at the Coroner’s Office.

During his Council address, Stearns did not indicate whether he plans to run for election Nov. 8.

Pavlich became coroner in 1996 following the resignation of Sylvan Manuel, who had held the coroner’s position for the 12 previous years. 

Manuel testified in court proceedings that he often paid for the Coroner’s Office operation with his own money. Manuel however was rebuffed by the St. Landry Parish Police Jury after he asked jurors for the $42,000 that he thought would be necessary to operate the Coroner’s Office.

When no one qualified for coroner following the resignation of Manuel, Opelousas attorney David Carriere became acting coroner until Pavich agreed to take the position. In subsequent elections, Pavich never had opposition.

Carriers however sued the Police Jury in order to obtain more substantial funding for the Coroner’s Office. After the judicial process for the issue was completed, the Coroner’s Office was able to obtain office space, operating money, deputy coroners and other parish government revenues that trial and appeals courts agreed were reasonable.