LULING, La. -- The St. Charles Parish Sheriff's office is mourning the loss of a veteran officer. Sunday night, Deputy Jeff Watson, 41, lost his life in a multi-vehicle accident on Paul Mallard Road in Luling.
He was answering a call for assistance from a fellow deputy when his vehicle veered into the southbound lane after hitting a pickup truck, then slammed head on to an oncoming SUV.
"He was a good man, a good deputy," said Sheriff Greg Champagne. "He did his job with a good attitude. He was dedicated. He was like by the public. He was liked by his co-workers."
The driver of the SUV, Arthur Tregre, 80, of Hahnville is in critical condition at University Medical Center in New Orleans. Tregre is a charter member of the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department and a former chief.
"We also don't want to lose sight of the fact that we have a senior citizen who was in the other vehicle who was seriously injured and we are certainly praying for his recovery," said Champagne.
Investigators say Deputy Watson and Tregre were not wearing their seat belts and speed is a factor in the crash.
"Whether or not that would have made a difference in whether or not Jeff would still be alive, I don't know," said Champagne. "But, certainly, people need to put their seat belt on."
Two other drivers also received minor injuries in the accident. The force of the crash sent vehicle parts flying into the air. The debris damaged cars parked in Beck's Automotive Service parking lot near the accident scene.
"The rear end went airborne and you can see flew over everything and went through this vehicle here," said Greg Becnel, pointing to a panel truck with a giant whole on its side. "It was on the ground over there. They must have recovered it. But, it was quite a scene out here."
People in Luling say they got to know Deputy Watson pretty well as he patrolled their neighborhood.
"He was a good guy, a friendly guy," said Becnel. "All the St. Charles deputies are pretty friendly. You get to know them personally."
"Jeff was a by-the-book guy, but also a down-to-earth guy," said Brian Young who lives around the corner from the accident scene. "He'd do anything to help anybody."
Watson is the first St. Charles deputy to die in the line of duty since 1982. There have only been four deputies killed during the 200-year history of the department.
"We certainly will pay him all the tribute that he or any other fallen hero deserves," said Champagne. "Our primary focus right now is on his wife of only a year."
Funeral arrangements are pending.