Firefighters, State Police troopers and ordinary citizens selflessly climbed over a guardrail, down 30 feet into alligator-infested canal waters to rescue three St. John the Baptist Parish firefighters thrown from an Interstate 10 bridge in LaPlace after they were hit by a party bus Sunday morning.
“It was a heroic effort, a lifesaving effort,” St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre said. “The heroics I saw today, you’ll never see on TV or in the movies. I saw a state trooper carry a firefighter who was pretty much unconscious, in full uniform and gear and everything, up a ladder.”
One of the firefighters, St. John Fire District Chief Spencer Chauvin, 36, was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived at a local hospital, according to Trooper Melissa Matey, spokeswoman for the State Police.
Firefighters William “Mack” Beal and Nick Saale were were also taken to a local hospital, according to St. John Parish Spokeswoman Baileigh Rebowe Helm. Saale was still hospitalized in stable condition Sunday evening. Beal was released after treatment for minor injuries, she said.
Two people are dead, including a district fire chief, after an illegal immigrant crashed a bus full of flood relief volunteers into a fire truck, three firefighters and several cars.
Firefighters had responded to a crash on the 3 Mile Bridge on I-10 in St. John, when police say a tour bus driver lost control.
“(The bus) struck the fire department’s ladder truck,” Trooper Melissa Matey said the bus then hit the firefighters. “All three firefighters were thrown over the edge of that guard rail.”
One of the firefighters, District Chief Spencer Chauvin, died a short time later. The other two were injured, one critically.
Denis Yasmir Amaya Rodriguez, 37, of Honduras, did not have a driver’s license and was in the country illegally, said Trooper Melissa Matey, spokeswoman for the State Police.
About 30 to 42 passengers on the bus suffered minor injuries. They were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
State Police investigators have determined the bus was a party bus transporting the passengers to an undisclosed location in the Baton Rouge area to work on flooded residences or businesses, according to Matey. The passengers were not volunteers, she said.
Rodriguez was not authorized to operate a commercial vehicle, Matey said. Troopers are working to determine who owned the bus and whether any mechanical failures occurred.
Louisiana State Police news release:
This morning at approximately 6:40 am, Louisiana State Police Troop B investigated a single car, minor injury crash on I-10 west at mile post 203. During the investigation of the single vehicle crash, another crash occurred at 7:17 am involving a private rental bus and three additional vehicles. The second crash claimed the lives of St. John the Baptist Parish Fire Chief Spencer Chauvin (age 36) of Gramercy, LA and 21 year old Jermaine Starr of Moss Point, MS.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the initial crash involved a 2005 Nissan Titan, driven by 30 year old Javontris Lawson of Marrero, LA. Lawson was traveling too fast for road conditions and lost control of the Titan, striking the left guardrail. The Titan then crossed the left and right lanes and struck the right guardrail. The vehicle came to rest across the right lane and right shoulder. Lawson and his passenger, 37 year old Bryan Hill of Kenner, LA, suffered minor injuries.
Louisiana State Police and the St. John the Baptist Fire Department responded to and were protecting the crash scene. The right lane was blocked by a fire truck, and a Trooper’s unit was just ahead of the fire truck with emergency lights activated. Three firefighters were standing near the right guardrail between the Trooper’s unit and the Titan, assisting with the minor injuries and investigation. A 2002 Eldorado National private party bus was traveling at a high rate of speed west on I-10 in the left lane approaching the crash scene at mile post 203.
For reasons under investigation, the bus struck the left side of the fire truck that was angled in the right lane. The bus then struck the rear of a 2012 Toyota Camry, and the Camry was pushed into the rear of a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado and flatbed trailer. After striking the rear of the Camry, the bus veered into the right lane between the Trooper unit and the Titan. It struck the three firefighters that were standing near the guardrail. The firefighters were thrown over the edge of the elevated interstate into the water below, approximately 30-40 feet. The Fire Chief, Spencer Chauvin, was transported to River Parishes Hospital where he was pronounced deceased. Firefighter William Mack Beal (age 35) of Gonzales, LA was transported to a local facility with moderate injuries, and Firefighter Nicholas Saale (age 32) of Ponchatoula, LA was airlifted to University Medical Center Level 1 Trauma Center with critical injuries.
The Camry was driven by 35 year old Marcus Tate of Moss Point, MS. Tate suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. The front seat passenger in the Camry, Vontravous Kelly and rear seat passenger David Jones, both of Moss Point, MS, were taken to University Medical Center. Kelly is in critical condition and Jones is in serious condition. The other rear seat passenger, Jermaine Starr, was pronounced dead on the scene.
The driver of the Chevrolet Silverado was identified as 48 year old Emiliano Acosta of Kenner, LA. The front seat passenger was 50 year old Solma Almendarez of Kenner. Three rear seat passengers include 30 year old Jenyfer Espinal of Kenner, and two 10 year old juveniles. All occupants of the Silverado were transported to local hospitals with minor to moderate injuries.
24 individuals have been identified as passengers on the private bus. All passengers were transported to local hospitals with minor to moderate injuries.
The driver of the bus has been identified as 37 year old Denis Yasmir Amaya Rodriguez. Rodriguez is an illegal alien from Honduras and does not have a driver’s license. The owner of the bus is Kristina’s Transportation LLC/AM Party Bus out of Jefferson, LA. Rodriguez will be booked into the St. John the Baptist Correctional Center with two counts of Negligent Homicide, Reckless Operation, Negligent Injuring and No Driver’s License. Additional criminal charges are forthcoming. This crash remains under investigation. Homeland Security Investigations is assisting Louisiana State Police.
“This is a very sad day for all first responders in Louisiana,” said Colonel Mike Edmonson, Louisiana State Police Superintendent. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the St. John the Baptist Fire Department. Louisiana has the “Move Over” law in place to protect our first responders on our roadways. Please adhere to this law and slow down when approaching emergency vehicles and disabled vehicles on the road.”