Ascension Parish responders formally honored for submerged vehicle rescue

Staff Report

Ascension Parish officials recognized the deputies, firefighters, and the dispatcher for saving lives after a crash involving a submerged vehicle in St. Amant.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre poses with deputies Daniel Haydel, Jamie Wolfe, Karly Gutierrez, and Sorrento firefighters Shane Wellman and Jeff Kelly. The sheriff and parish officials honored the five responders for their heroic efforts in responding to a submerged vehicle in St. Amant.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre and Parish President Clint Cointment both presented five individuals with awards for their heroic efforts while on duty.

Deputy Karly Gutierrez, who was the dispatcher receiving the call for help, was lauded for her actions during the Jan. 27 incident. The four responders at the scene included Deputy Daniel Haydel, Deputy Jamie Wolfe, and Sorrento firefighters Jeff Kelly and Shane Wellman.

Gutierrez received the 911 call from a third party advising that the vehicle with three occupants ran off the road and into a waterway along Hwy. 429 at George Lambert Road, just before 3 a.m.

The sheriff said Guiterrez acted swiftly to help find the exact location of the Nissan truck. Haydel arrived on scene four minutes later, and immediately jumped into the water and worked to pull out the occupants.

A short time later, Wolfe arrived and jumped into the water to help. Kelly and Wellman also assisted the deputies in getting the occupants to safety.

St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc, Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment, and the parish council’s Joel Robert and John Cagnolatti honor the five responders during a Feb. 4 ceremony in Gonzales.

The sheriff stated the quick response, recognition of the severity of the medical emergency, immediate actions, and effective CPR, resulted in getting a pulse on all occupants being taken to nearby hospitals.

Webre said he wanted to formally thank everyone involved in the outstanding efforts in service to the community.

In the days following the crash, two of the occupants passed away. On Feb. 6, State Police Troop A was notified that 24-year-old Alayna Duncan of St. Amant succumbed to her injuries. On Jan. 28, 4-year-old Jason Molder passed away.

In Cointment’s proclamations during a ceremony held Feb. 4 in Gonzales, he said the responders “went above and beyond” their training.

“Because of you, lives were saved. You are a hero!” he said.

Webre also spoke during the conference, praising the efforts of the five individuals who stood behind him.

The sheriff said “not everybody would have jumped in the water” in such a critical situation.

Webre pointed out that the honorees have been humble and did not want any recognition, though he felt they deserved a moment in the spotlight.

He said without their actions, the crash “could have been way more tragic than what it was.”

St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc followed and recounted the events of the early-morning rescue effort, likening the five to quarterbacks in football.

LeBlanc said the first call was from someone who was not on the scene. He pointed out how Gutierrez was able to get the phone number of someone who was on the scene in order to get better information.

Haydel had been working the night shift and was already at home, according to LeBlanc.

“Why in the world Daniel Haydel didn’t turn his radio off when he got out of his car is phenomenal to me,” he said.

Haydel heard the call over the radio, went back to his vehicle and went to the scene, LeBlanc said. As soon as he arrived, he ripped off his gear and jumped into the water.

LeBlanc said Wolfe arrived a short time later and also removed his gear and dove into the water.

The fire chief described the area as dark and the waterway as muddy, making the rescue effort more difficult.

LeBlanc said St. Amant and 5th Ward fire departments were called, but not Sorrento, which is the department of Wellman and Kelly.

According to the chief, the two firefighters were in bed sleeping when the call went over the radio. They also rushed to the scene and jumped into the water to assist with the rescue.

LeBlanc emphasized that the Sorrento firefighters are volunteers who are not paid. They left their beds at 3 a.m. and responded to a scene their department was not called to.

“That is dedication,” LeBlanc said. “That’s what we have in this parish. That’s why we are so blessed in this parish.”

He said the result would have been more tragic if each one of the team had not done their jobs as well as they did.