'It’s so hard’: Family, friends mourn tragic death of STPSO deputy
NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Family and friends are mourning the loss of a St. Tammany deputy killed in a crash on his way home from his bachelor party Sunday afternoon (Aug. 4).
Colette Lemonier planned to marry the love of her life, Cpl. Jonathan Panks in November, but is now helping to plan his funeral instead.
“He was the best. He’s the best person you could ever meet," Lemonier said. “He has so many friends and so many people that loved him.”
Lemonier was at a family party when her fiance’s friend called and told them there had been an accident.
“[He said] Jonathan was not conscious. They had to cut him out of the truck," Lemonier said.
According to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, Panks was killed in a head-on collision in Mississippi while he was driving back from Florida after his bachelor’s party.
“I was starting to get upset, and I was trying to stay strong because I didn’t want to overreact," Lemonier said. “But when they sent us a picture of the truck and everything, it started to feel a little more real.”
Panks’ brother Jared was also in the vehicle, along with his two close friends. All three were still recovering in the hospital Monday.
Melissa Panks, Jonathan’s older sister, was on her way back from Colombia when she heard the tragic news.
“I felt pretty helpless and like I didn’t have any control, because I couldn’t be there for my family," Melissa Panks said. “And then, when I got the other phone call, I was in the middle of the plane in my seat, and just was in shock. And everybody around me heard, and I just started crying.”
Lemonier’s father David, said he couldn’t have wished for a better son-in-law.
“Jonathan was part of this family for almost five years. So, he’s like a son. He is a son. I lost a son in this accident" He said.
Lemonier said Panks would leave her notes in the home they shared. The last one he left was Thursday morning before his trip.
“He said, 'Babe, dishes in the dishwasher will be clean, trash is out. I want you to know I will truly miss you the few days I’m gone. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you, and I hope you have some fun this weekend too," Lemonier read, struggling not to cry.
With just a few months until they were supposed to be married, Lemonier said they had a lot to look forward to.
“I think that the hardest part is all the future plans you know you have. We were so close to being married, so we just discussed so much in depth. We wanted to start a family short after. It just kind of feels like you’re drowning,” she said.
Loved ones said Pank was dependable, someone with a strong moral compass and always willing to lend a helping hand.
“He took me in and let me stay with him any time," Melissa Panks said. "Without questions asked, he’s let me stay with him when I was going through hard times.”
For Lemonier, learning to navigate life without her fiance is a daunting task.
“I stayed in the house last night because I wanted to feel close to him, but you walk in a room and a memory hits you, or a conversation, and you kind of lose it all over again,” She said. "It’s so hard.”
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said funeral arrangements will be finalized Wednesday.
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