Gripping story emerges from award ceremony

Gripping story emerges from award ceremony
The cake for the first-ever appreciation luncheon of the East Feliciana Police Chiefs Association (Source: WAFB)
The cake for the first-ever appreciation luncheon of the East Feliciana Police Chiefs Association (Source: WAFB)

EAST FELICIANA PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The East Feliciana Sheriff police Chiefs Association, having organized just this year, held its first annual appreciation luncheon and one story of heroism literally brought the room to its feet.

On Saturday, April 8, the setting was the beautiful Centenary Inn in Jackson, Louisiana. The room was filled with judges, mayors, clerks of court and chiefs of fire and police departments. A state representative for this area, Kenny Havard, business people and pastors were also present.

While everyone feasted on jambalaya, white beans and fabulous cake prepared by some officers, award winners were called up one by one to receive a plaque and a pat on the back.

The area had been through hell. And the people in this room had made it possible for East Feliciana residents to recover from the flood.

"It seems like a perfect time to recognize the efforts of people in our area," said Tammy Garig of the Wilson Police Department.

And when businesses, and lawmen and firefighters and amazing 911 dispatchers had all been honored, Garig moved to the podium again.

There was a story, she said, that should not be forgotten.

"And the East Feliciana Police Chief Association is creating an award of merit tonight," she said.

The story she then told held the audience transfixed. Every word was part of a gripping tale.

Of course there were other dramas during the historic August flood, but this one took a public servant far beyond his normal duties, Garig said.

The rains were still falling in deluge, Garig said. A young woman Shandricka Kent realized her parents might be on higher ground and decided she would join them. Kent left her home hoping the two bridges between her and her parents, Louis and Joyce Kent, were not yet unreachable through floodwaters.

She drove carefully with her car over the first one. She then held her breath and pushed on.

With the second bridge, there was a fierce current already coursing across the roadway. Shandricka felt it might not yet be deep. She carefully moved onto the bridge. And then the current caught her car and washed it off the road. As her car started slowly sinking, Kent realized she needed to get out.

When she open the door her car started sinking even more quickly. As she sprung out of the car, she knew she could not swim and grabbed onto the first thing she could reach and clung for dear life. A tree was close enough to reach but not near the creek bank.

She was trapped in the turbulent water.

Kent realized that no one knew she was on the way to see her parents. And there she was with water coursing by her fiercely holding on without the ability to swim for two hours.

Her strength was starting to disappear, when an aunt came to the bridge and was about to cross, possibly to go to the Kent's house, too.

Shandricka shouted a warning "Don't go in!"

It was then her aunt saw her for the first time and dialed 911.

Within minutes, rescue teams were on both sides of the raging Creek. The East Feliciana Sheriffs deputies tried first. They had a small boat and it pitched violently in the current and capsized. Strong men had to swim back to the shore and regroup.

On the other side of the creek, the Norwood Fire Department was weighing its options.

"We'll throw you a rope and we can pull you in," Norwood Fire Chief Jimmy Garig shouted. In his 32 years as fire chief, he had known and used plenty of rescue techniques.

Shandricka shouted "I can't!" She said she could not swim and she would go under as the rope came in.

Garig, without hesitating, threw one end of the rope to his men. He tied the other end of the rope to himself and begin swimming toward Kent. The water was a freight train, Kent was so exhausted from two hours alone in the creek she could barely keep hanging onto the tree.

Chief Garig did not ask her to swim. "Just hang on!" He held her in a bear hug, keeping her head above water. His men tugged hard against the current and brought them in.

Pulling to the side where her parents were the fire crew took her to the door and checked on her before leaving to rescue others.

"The first-ever Police Chiefs Award of Merit goes to Fire Chief Jimmy Garig," Tammy Garig said.

Shandricka Kent and her father Louis Kent were in the audience and met Garig in front of the hall. She fell into the chief's arms and big hugs abounded, possibly a few tears.

The room filled with local luminaries rose to its feet in standing ovation.

It was an unforgettable moment - a story of a quick-thinking and fearless public servant.

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