Body of Texas man missing since Mardi Gras found in canal in SUV

Published 4:21 pm Friday, March 21, 2008

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The body of a 44-year-old Texas man who had been missing since Mardi Gras was found in a submerged sport utility vehicle in a canal — where it may have been for weeks because nobody investigated a damaged guard rail.

The Sheriff’s Office in this New Orleans suburb is investigating, but officials said they suspect John Paul Delatte’s red Ford Expedition crashed through a metal barrier and flew into the canal, according to Col. John Fortunato, spokesman for the department.

Delatte, a New Orleans area native who moved to Mansfield, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina, was reported missing on Feb. 5.

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There were no signs of foul play when the body was recovered Thursday, according to the Sheriff’s Office, but the cause of death had not been determined.

Delatte disappeared after visiting a friend who worked at a bar in the French Quarter, authorities have said. Delatte, his pregnant wife Melissa and their three children were in town visiting relatives and friends for Carnival season.

The Sheriff’s Office located Delatte’s vehicle after a resident who noticed the demolished guard rail called 911 on Wednesday to report a possible car in the canal.

One neighborhood resident said he reported the downed guard rail to Jefferson Parish government several times. But Public Works Director Jose Gonzalez said Thursday the department has no records of any complaints about the barrier.

Delatte had grown up in the New Orleans suburb of Terrytown, but his job transferred him to Texas after Hurricane Katrina, his sister-in-law, Shannon Delatte, said.

Metairie neighbors Richard Schwab, 49, and Wendy Dupuy, 41, said they’ve noticed the damaged barricade for at least a month, possibly longer. Schwab said he made several calls to the parish to complain about the downed barricade.

But neither he nor Dupuy called police. “I assumed it was so major that everybody already knew,” Dupuy said.