The two men found dead in the Intracoastal Canal on Monday drowned after evading police, who found the two driving a van carrying the victim of a weekend Lafayette abduction, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes said on Tuesday.
The news marks the latest development in the kidnapping case whose primary suspect remains missing.
Cazes said the two men triggered a police chase on Sunday after they began driving down the shoulder of Interstate 10 East, which was shut down after an 18-wheeler overturned. Police followed them for miles until the van got stuck in the mud near La. 1, and both men — one of them armed with a gun — fled the vehicle.
Authorities then found the abducted woman in the back of the van.
Surveillance footage obtained by The Advocate through the WBR Sheriff's Office shows the two men running past a business near the chase's end point. They both wore red shirts.
"I am totally convinced the two people that I was chasing, or we were chasing, Sunday afternoon, matched the same clothing description," Cazes said.
"I can positively ID that these are the two guys I chased Sunday afternoon," Cazes said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference, adding that they surveillance images of the two men, along with their visual identification of the men both during the chase and upon the discovery of their bodies, matched.
Cazes said he had no information to disclose about Lawrence Michael Handley, who's the primary suspect in the kidnapping.
Handley, 49, is wanted on counts of second-degree kidnapping, attempted second-degree kidnapping and violation of a protective order in relation to the abduction.
The Lafayette Police Department remains tight-lipped on their suspicions about Handley's involvement but say they've uncovered information about his alleged role, adding that his whereabouts are still unknown.
According to the initial report in the kidnapping, the person who reported the crime was handcuffed by the assailants but left behind, along with a juvenile who was also present at the home in the 300 block of Founders Street:
Complainant reported that two black males entered residence armed with handguns, handcuff both victim, and complainant. The black males placed a black bag over the victim's head and forced her into a unknown make, model white SUV leaving the complainant and juvenile at the residence. Victim was located Iberville Parish in stable condition. Both suspects could not be located. Crime scene and CID arrived and assumed the investigation.
Bodies of the two men in the van were found around 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, but their identities have not been released. Cazes said they were both black males wearing clothes that matched the description given by the person who first reported the kidnapping.
Police have said Handley knew the kidnapping victim but have not identified his relation to her.
Court records show Handley was involved in a recent, heated divorce that involved mutual restraining orders.
Handley's also been prosecuted before in federal court. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to paying for a private charter jet from Lafayette to Boston with a fake cashier's check worth $22,000, according to records in Louisiana's U.S. Western District.
"It appears that Handley used a relatively unsophisticated scheme and artifice to defraud the jet charter company," the plea agreement states, adding that he purchased a program to create the fake check that was drawn on a fictional Abbeville bank.
He was sentenced to three years of supervised release, requiring him to refrain from any substance use and a drug-test regiment, participate in a substance abuse program during that time, complete 500 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.
Handley co-founded Townsend outpatient addiction recovery centers in 2009, which operates eight outpatient addiction centers in south Louisiana, including one in Lafayette. The business sold to American Addiction Centers in 2015 for more than $21 million.
Throughout his time with the business, he admitted that his motivation for starting the company came from his own struggle with alcohol addiction.