St. John Sheriff’s deputy honored for lifesaving rescue

Published 12:07 am Saturday, May 6, 2017

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Williams had only been on the job as a patrolman for a few months when he got a call he will never forget.

It was a cold, rainy January day when the dispatcher put out a desperate call from Garyville: a woman had driven her car off the road into a water-filled ditch and her baby was in the car.

Williams headed in that direction.

“Each call the dispatcher gave sounded worse and worse,” he said.

“So my speed started picking up.”

When Williams arrived on the scene along with another deputy, he didn’t think, didn’t hesitate.

He jumped into action.

Deputies Justin Williams, left, and Kendel Harris are often called upon to remove stray alligators from St. John Parish neighborhood, earning them the nickname ‘Gator Boys.’ (Photo courtesy of Justin Williams)

“Mind you, it was, like, 20 degrees outside,” he said. “The lady was still in the water when I arrived. So, without really thinking, I just jumped in. The water was like needles in my body.”

Williams said the woman was conscious but shaken up.

“She really couldn’t respond well,” he said. “So I pretty much just grabbed her and picked her up and started to try and climb on top of the mud. The water was up to my chest area. I got her to safety and Acadian Ambulance arrived and checked her out. She was OK.”

The baby also was checked out after another deputy, Deveny Batiste (who is no longer with the department), got the baby out of the car.

While the incident was memorable, Williams thought that was the end of it until last month when he was honored by Sheriff Mike Tregre as the Officer of the First Quarter and received a plaque from representatives of the Becnel Law Firm, which sponsors the award.

“It felt great,” Williams said. “It makes me want to continue making a difference. The best recognition, though, is the fact that I was able to save those lives.”

Williams said making a difference in people’s lives is the best part of the job he loves — but he didn’t set out to do it.

A former Destrehan High and Southeastern Louisiana University football player, Williams was going to be a sports therapist. It was his aunt, a nurse at a juvenile facility, who encouraged him to apply for a job there.

“I said, ‘I’ll think about it, but I don’t really think that’s my cup of tea,’” Williams said. “I applied, though, and I got the job.”

Williams spent two years working with youths at a juvenile facility in Houma and finding out a lot about himself.

“I got the job and I started liking it,” he said. “It was the worst of the worst kids, a lot of kids from broken homes, a lot of sad stories. When you have children like that, it’s hard to get them to open up. I’ve always wanted to be like a big brother. I have an older brother and I always wanted to be an older brother, so I just started talking to them. It wasn’t just a job. I just loved it. The kids would tell me a lot and I would tell them, ‘stop doing at least one of the things that got you here.’”

Then Williams got a call from St. John Parish. After attending the Police Training Academy, he joined the department in 2015.

Besides patrolling his assigned areas, he also is one of the guys who gets called to remove snakes and alligators. He and fellow deputy Kendel Harris have earned the nickname “Gator Boys.”

“That’s like a normal thing for us,” he said. “We get a stick and poke at him until he gets tired then Kendel jumps on the head and I jump on the tail.”

It’s all part of the job he loves.

“It’s the perfect job,” he said. “You get to meet people all the time. There’s never a dull day. You deal with a lot of things, a lot of problems, but it feels good when you can fix a problem. It’s not just about bringing somebody to jail. That doesn’t always fix the problem.

“We’re peacemakers. We’ve got to fix the problems. You deal with all kinds of people. Yeah, they do bad things but, at the end of the day, they’re still people. You’ve got to treat them as such.”